Things and Stuff

15 04 2012

No apologies or excuses. I’ve been busy, and had to put my ranting and raving on hold for a bit. Assuming there’s still anyone out there interested in what I have to say, I’ll get right into it.

POLITICAL SHIFT

It’s weird. I used to be considered fairly conservative as recently as six years ago. As far as I can tell, my political views haven’t changed a jot, but I find myself increasingly accused of being a democrat. Maybe the fact that I’m fiscally conservative but socially liberal has something to do with it. Once upon a time, I identified more with republicans than democrats- especially in matters of the size and power of government vs the individual and fiscal policy. Oddly enough, my personal politics is still the same as it used to be, but republicans have drifted far from these original points of agreement. The past decade or so has shown that conservatives are no better at fiscal matters than liberals- and may even be worse, depending on your standard of measurement. Having lost this advantage over their foes, the republicans have been forced to stress the only things which really distinguish them from democrats- social policy.

This is not a winning strategy for republicans. In their zeal to demonstrate their socially conservative chops by espousing ever-more extremist positions, republicans are driving ordinary conservatives out of the fold, creating a huge number of conservative voters who are horrified at what has happened to their party. Contrary to the current republican positions (based upon the staggering number of pig-ignorant legislation coming from republican-dominated state legislatures and various extremist groups extracting pledges of ideological purity from national candidates), most people in the US really don’t give a rat’s ass what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes and think the government should stay out of everyone’s business- including the lady parts republicans suddenly seem to find so icky. I’m kind of in the same boat. Like the comedian said, “I can’t be a democrat because I like to keep and spend the money I make, but I can’t be a republican because I like to spend it on drugs and whores.”

The end result of this shift to the extreme right by the nominally conservative republicans is likely to be an electoral bloodbath this coming November. I really dislike single-party rule. History shows that such states tend to become very nasty, very quickly. I rather like it when neither side has a massive majority, for the same reason. Our government functions (to the extent it does function) by compromise, and compromise is hard to come by when one party or the other has an overwhelming vote advantage. So, republicans, if you want to avoid going the way the Whig party did, please come back from your extended sojourn into whackjob-land. The vast majority of the voting public will be waiting for you near the center, and I’ll be with them.

RESPONSIBILITY

I own several firearms. I’m licensed by the state where I reside to carry a firearm, and I often do. Carrying a firearm is a serious responsibility. By carrying a firearm, you are taking upon yourself the power to take a life. If you carry a firearm and are not willing to kill should it become necessary, you are essentially delivering a weapon to whomever is willing to take it from you. This is not acting responsibly. Likewise, the person who carries a firearm who goes out of his or her way to find an excuse to use it is not behaving responsibly. Your primary policy of self-defense should be a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.

As a (hopefully) responsible gun owner, I am disgusted by the shooting of an unarmed young man by a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida a few weeks ago. The shooter’s actions did not involve avoidance, deterrence, or de-escalation, and a young man is unjustly dead. My personal opinion is that the shooter is guilty of murder, but I’m not sure it will be possible to convict him due to the poorly written laws in Florida regarding the use of lethal force. There are no winners in this incident, but there are lots of losers. Every single person or organization trying to make political hay out of the death of an unarmed young man has lost whatever vestiges of humanity they may have once had.

SYRIA

Bashar al Assad is proving to be less ruthless than his father in dealing with internal dissent. That said, his government’s actions have been overwhelmingly vicious over the past year since the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings came to Syria. Where Hafez al Assad obliterated the city of Hama, sonny boy has only managed to butcher a few thousand people in the city. Bashar al Assad’s military is beginning to fracture as well, with entire units deserting or joining the uprising.

Syria’s government is not in a particularly good position. The whole world is watching, and Syria has several powerful neighbors who are distinctly unhappy with the slaughter in Syrian cities. Turkey is the big player in the immediate area, and the Turks are easily capable of crushing Syria militarily if provoked. The only thing preventing Syria from being completely isolated is the increasingly tepid support from Russia and China. I suspect Russia is supporting Syria out of a vague paternal feeling for a former client state, but even Russian and Chinese tolerance is growing strained by the continuing bloodshed. I hope Russia and China decide to exert some real pressure on Syria to find a less apocalyptic solution to their internal problem than the current policy of killing everyone in the general vicinity of anyone expressing mild disapproval of the Syrian government. Otherwise, Syria would likely end up a bloodier version of Libya.

Current status: Tired

Current music: Tango to Evora by Loreena McKennitt





Personal Responsibility

18 12 2008

Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

A few days ago, a co-worker happened to mention an accident involving Plaxico Burress. Intrigued, I asked what she meant. I was then treated to a little speech about the “accident” where Burress managed to shoot himself in the leg at a nightclub in New York City.

The word “accident” implies that the person involved had no means of preventing the incident. This word gets used a lot, generally to imply that someone who suffered some sort of misadventure was not really at fault. “It was an accident.”

Let us look at the circumstances of this particular “accident”. I am sure that Burress did not intend to shoot himself in the leg, but the resulting injury and criminal charges are entirely his fault. He made the decision to purchase a firearm in Florida. He then chose to take the firearm from Florida to New York City, which is a violation of NYC statutes (even if Burress didn’t know that, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense). He deliberately stuffed a locked-and-loaded pistol into the waistband of his sweatpants (carrying a concealed firearm without a permit is illegal almost everywhere) and took it to a nightclub (which is illegal in many states- including New York). He chose to consume alcohol at this club, when any moron of average intelligence could tell you it is a bad idea to mix booze and guns.

Because Plaxico Burress made a series of bad decisions (carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon in NYC, carrying the loaded weapon stuffed in the waistband of his sweatpants, drinking and dancing with a locked-and-loaded weapon in the waistband of his sweatpants), his stupidity caught up with him and punched a hole through his leg. He was stupid, and is paying the price for stupidity. No accident involved.

I have a concealed weapons permit. I sometimes carry my weapon when I go out in town. I never touch alcohol when I’m wearing, using, or working on any weapon, because that would be stupid. I always carry my weapon securely strapped into a holster. I don’t carry my weapon anywhere it would be illegal to do so. I don’t carry my weapon unless I have a reasonable suspicion that I might need it. I never carry a weapon when it would be more likely to get me into trouble than it would be likely to get me out of trouble. I always treat my weapon with respect and care, and I always remember the responsibility inherent in the right to keep and bear arms.

Maybe the difference is a matter of money. Plaxico Burress is a wealthy man. He has had a remarkable, marketable talent, which earned him a great deal of wealth and fame. He earned that wealth because he was good at what he did, and people were willing to pay him to do it. More power to him. But he seems to have developed the idea that his wealth and fame made him immune to the effects of reality. The cultural medium in which we live does promote the idea that money trumps everything.

Plaxico Burress is (hopefully) just now realizing that the Law of Averages trumps money. I hope he learns something from it. I hope other people learn from his mistake. Check out this series of Tank McNamara comics.

Of course, Plaxico Burress is not the only wealthy person to assume money and fame would shield them from the consequences of their actions.  This story from the Houston Chronicle shows that attractive white girls have the same wrong idea.

And we’re back to my original questions: What happened to personal responsibility? Taking responsibility for your actions lets you learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, everything we see in print, on TV, or online tells us that nothing is our fault. Everything that happens to us is entirely beyond our control, and is usually fodder for expensive litigation. In the 80′s, for example, a few people managed to hit the wrong pedal in their cars and accelerated instead of braking. This led to a whole series of lawsuits against various car makers (especially Audi), because the drivers of those vehicles refused to admit responsibility for their actions.

What the Hell is wrong with these people? Everything that happens to you is the direct result of some decision you have made. Every choice you have made has led you to where you are right now. Choice. If you want to know whose fault it is that you’re not a multimillionaire, look in the mirror. Some circumstances can be beyond your control, but how you react to those circumstances is your responsibility. You made the decisions. Choosing not to make a decision is also a decision, so you can’t escape your responsibility that way.

I made a stupid mistake five years ago. As a result of this mistake, I am in pain every day of my life. I used to run three miles a day. Now, I can barely walk. This was my fault. I stopped paying attention for a few minutes and screwed up the rest of my life. Worse still, I wasn’t the only one affected. My command had to find an emergency replacement for me. My wife has had to make some serious changes to our lifestyle and finances. The big difference between me and those people who blame everyone but themselves is that I accepted responsibility for my “accident”, and did what I could with my remaining assets.

I refuse to believe that I’m special for doing this. Anyone can do it- all it takes is accepting personal responsibility. Pity that so few Americans seem to be willing to do anything of the sort. Especially those with money, fame, or power.

Current status: Irked

Current music: Coffee Song by Frank Sinatra





Basic Criteria

21 09 2008

I am not a democrat. Nor am I a republican, libertarian, communist, socialist, whig, hottentot, albigensian, or any other label people routinely apply to others. I am reasonably certain that most people who are described using the terms above do not fit into the label with which they’ve been identified. It is merely easier to simply lump people into general categories than to deal with the fact that everyone is both more and less than the labels we’ve been branded with.

Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. -RAH

If we examine the various political advertisements which bombard us every hour of the day, we can find a lot of crap disguising the real intent of the ads. For example, there’s one in particular which sets my teeth to grinding and my trigger finger to twitching.

The ad in question starts by begging our leaders to help reduce pollution, global warming, dependence upon foreign power sources, get the weeds out of our gardens, make our penises larger, make us lose weight, and generally solve all of the world’s ills. The reason I hate this ad is the implied statement that it is the Gummint’s job to do any of this.

Our Government is supposed to maintain public order, defend the country from foreign and domestic enemies, and otherwise stay the Hell out of our business. Yet far too many people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to get the Gummint to get more and more involved in our lives. This specifically includes the various politicians (of every description) running for public office. All of them.

A friend of mine recently complained that his utility bills were too high, and groused that Warren Buffet (who had recently purchased said utilities) ought to reduce the rates. How about a little personal responsibility? If you don’t want to pay so much for electricity, cut down on your consumption. There are a lot of basic things anyone can do to reduce their utility bills: upgrade the windows; turn the A/C up in the summer and down in the winter; change your light bulbs for lower-wattage models; use the bulk of your electricity after dark, when the rates are lower; etc. Instead of praying to the Gods for relief, try doing something for yourself.

It all comes down to basic criteria. Are you willing to take responsibility for your own decisions, or are you willing to become a serf to the Gummint in exchange for a life of ease- with no decisions? I have no desire to be a serf. Generations of Americans have fought, bled, and died so that we could be free. Becoming a serf would be turning one’s back on the sacrifices of our ancestors. Remianing free means making some sacrifices of one’s own.

Americans used to be infamous for our go-it-alone attitudes. We were a nation of individuals, loosely organized around a set of ideals embodied in a couple of parchment documents in the nation’s capitol. Over just the course of my lifetime, I have seen more and more people begging the Gummint to relieve them of the responsibility for their own actions, to make decisions for them. This has led to a huge number of egregious stupidities to flourish in our institutions and discourse. More and more, the implied belief in far too many people is that the Gummint would be there to bail them out from the consequences of their decisions.

I refuse to be a part of this crap. If you want the Gummint to run your life, then you should have the option of turning over 90% of your income to the Gummint to pay for the privilege. Everyone else can pay their taxes normally. Those of us who are willing to run our own lives should not be forced to pay for those who are not so inclined.

Current status: disgusted

Current music: Seen All Good People by Yes








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