music politics

“Bleeding badly from a face-lift” would make a good first line of a country song, so here goes

Bleeding badly from a face-lift
And sitting drunk behind the wheel
I light another cig-a-rette
And imagine how you’d feel

If I had left you broke and lonely
And desperately wanting me
Never knowing where I went to
And always feeling lost at sea

Bleeding badly from a face-lift
I think back now on all the years
That we spent to-ge-ther
While I wince away the tears

freedom politics war

Open Letter to the President Regarding Manning and Snowden

Dear President Obama,

I write to you as a citizen of the United States of America to ask you to pardon Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden for their actions connected to the release of classified documents to the public.

Manning was sentenced recently to 30 years in prison. If Snowden were within the reach of U.S. law, I’m sure he would likely get a similar punishment.

While such punishment is appropriate for our nation’s spies and traitors, it’s clear to me that these two are not such. They are, like Daniel Elsberg, whistleblowers and heroes whose law-breaking was an act of civil disobedience done to expose greater wrong-doing.

We can only be a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people” as long as we, the people, are allowed oversight of what is being done in our name. Our society cannot discuss or make informed choices as voters if critical issues such as the torture of prisoners, widespread surveillance of our phone and internet traffic, extrajudicial killing of civilians and the destruction of evidence are kept hidden from us.

After Snowden’s leaks to the Guardian, you said that you welcome the public discussion of privacy and security. Would that discussion have been possible without those leaks? The answer is no. Senator Ron Wyden tried to start that conversation before the leaks occurred by asking NSA director James Clapper during his testimony before Congress if the agency gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper dissembled, saying “No sir. Not wittingly.” Snowden’s leaks are the only way we know that this is not true.

This is why I am appealing to you to grant clemency for both of these people. They did not hand the information secretly to foreign powers. They did not take action for personal gain, but rather for the benefit of the public and at great personal risk. As to whether the information they uncovered aids our enemies or threatens our interests in the world, I respectfully argue that the uncovering of this information is not nearly as damaging as the actions that have been uncovered. I see their action, though illegal, as heroic effort to expose the wrongdoing of others.

Please, Mr. President, pardon Manning and offer Snowden leniency that would enable him to return home.

Thank you,

Porter Hall
Bainbridge Island, Wash.

freedom grief politics

For the Love of Gun

Sig Sauer P226I woke up this morning to hear the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial: not guilty. I’m dismayed by this news. The broad facts of the incident that killed Trayvon Martin are these:

  1. Martin was unarmed, walking back to a house where he was a guest
  2. Zimmerman, an armed resident paroling the neighborhood in no official capacity, suspected Martin for being a burglar and started following him.
  3. Police dispatch told Zimmerman to not follow Martin, but he did anyway
  4. A struggle ensued between the two
  5. Zimmerman used his gun to kill Martin.

What’s most disturbing is that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law permits this to happen. It allows people to use deadly force if they feel their life is in danger.

Zimmerman’s life may have been in danger, but he put himself into that danger. The gun on his hip led him to overestimate his own abilities.

And this is why America loves guns. They immediately change the power calculus in any confrontation. For millions of years, the stronger, larger animal usually won. Guns change that math in favor of the person with their finger on the trigger.

If Zimmerman didn’t have a gun, would he have still gone after Martin? Of course not. The gun was the central prop in his policeman fantasy. It’s what gave him his power. It’s what made up for his lack of ability and experience.

There was a dangerous man in the neighborhood that night, but it wasn’t Trayvon Martin. It was George Zimmerman. Florida’s gun laws—and America’s gun obsession—made Zimmerman a dangerous man and condone his recklessly lethal behavior. It is a shame and an embarrassment that the jury found him innocent of second-degree murder.

freedom Internet politics technology

Let Congress Know How You Feel About CISPA

advice freedom future politics

Wake Up, America: We Are All Screwed by the Super Rich

advice future personality politics

Shame is Fame

you lie - banksySeriously? Lance Armstrong is going to sit down with Oprah Winfrey to confess what everyone already knows, that he took performance-enhancing drugs to win his Tour de France titles. And it’s going to be taped? And people will watch it? Why?

Because Shame is Fame. What used to be somebody’s downfall can now be their windfall.

Let’s take a look at the highlights of what Mr. Armstrong might be confessing to:

  • Cheating (his opponents, his fans, his sport)
  • Lying (to his supporters, to regulators and to the legal system)
  • Attacking whistleblowers
  • Fraud
  • Drug trafficking

And he is just the latest in what has become a long line of celebrities who have been exposed as cheats, swindlers, home wreckers, bigots, thieves, drunk drivers, abusers and so on.

There once was a time when a big enough scandal would effectively end a celebrity’s career. But that’s not the case any more. Today, celebrities have the Prime Time Confessional to absolve them of their sins.

And how fitting that he’s going to be confessing to Oprah. She has become our nation’s benevolent Grand Inquisitor, and she’s perfect for the role. Her public persona is so sweet, warm and kind that, if she forgives you, a nation follows.

From there, the penitent celebrity has a number of places (s)he can go. There’s the tell-all book and talk shows, of course. There’s also: reality TV, film roles, speaking engagements, public appearances, TV punditry and more, I’m sure.

And what’s even more dismaying, some regular folks have achieved their initial fame through shame, fleeting though it often is.  Their prospects are mostly limited to reality TV.

All of this is a sign that there’s something wrong in our culture. I’m in favor of us loving and forgiving family members and friends for their misdeeds, but shouldn’t we maintain a public consequence for wrongdoing? We can’t rely on the legal system to deliver a fitting punishment since we all know that the law is consistently obfuscated by the lawyers of wealthy defendants.

Shun celebrities for wrongdoing

For better or worse, celebrities are icons for our society. They are cultural representatives. The unwritten laws governing them also govern us.

How you treat others, how you conduct yourself in this world, matters to us as a society. We need unwritten moral laws to keep us in check as individuals. Watching TV, buying books or movie tickets is one of the ways we change those unwritten laws over time.

If we don’t shun lying and cheating celebrities, we weaken that moral law and make it easier, as individuals, to lie to and cheat one another. If we fail, our society moves toward corruption.

freedom history politics technology

It Would Have Been Impossible to Kill 20 School Kids With a Musket

Used by a lone gunman at an Oregon mall this week

Violently disturbed aberrations existed 200 years ago, too. For what we know, bad people have always existed and will always exist. We can’t do anything about them. No social program, no medical intervention, no entertainment rating system will ever make us completely safe from them.

Though weapons have been around, likewise, for millions of years, the gun is a fairly recent invention. Guns of 200 years ago, like the musket, were single-shot rifles that had to be reloaded after each discharge. Modern automatic weapons provide much more efficient firepower.

At some point, we all have to agree that technology has made it easier to do more damage as a lone gunman. The NRA has to agree to this simple fact, too, don’t they?

Look, we’re a gun-loving culture and that’s not about to change. Some of us love to hunt, some of us want guns for protection and some of us just love to shoot. I believe that responsible, mentally balanced citizens deserve the right to have guns for those purposes as long as it’s done in a safe way.

By allowing assault rifles in this country, our society is saying that we’re willing to put up a certain number of gun violence victims in exchange for that technology.

How to Fix This

  1. Well, first, make these machines illegal and set a limit on future technology.
  2. Let’s create a gun victims fund in this country and tax the shit out of bullets for this kind of weapon.
  3. Let’s create criminal penalties for the owners of these guns so that there’s increased for owning one of these machines if it is used to kill innocent people.

The Holland Example

I watched a short documentary on the evolution of bicycle culture in Holland recently. It’s known as one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. They started building their bicycle infrastructure 40 years ago because of public outcry following a rash of auto accident deaths.

Can you imagine that? The people came together and rather than bickering around the issue and grandstanding about personal freedoms, decided that these were preventable deaths and that they, as a culture, had to do something about it. They didn’t make cars illegal, but by changing traffic rules in and around cities that stopped favoring cars and started favoring bicyclists and pedestrians, they’ve changed the trend and kept people alive.

Here’s the thing: a ban on assault weapons will save lives in this country.


Bring on the $5 Gallon of Gas

“What this country needs is a good, seven-cent nickel.” –Groucho Marx

Last week, I came just short of my first $60 transaction at the gas station. It was startling. What’s going on? Where are the gas lines?

Gas prices are slowly going up, and we’re slowly adjusting to the pain. Now John McCain and Hilary Clinton are calling for a repeal of the gas tax until (if?) prices go back down.

This position reveals an ignorance of supply-and-demand economics that is shocking for a U.S. Senator. As far as I’m concerned, this position all but disqualifies either of them from the office of President of the United States.

Gas prices are rising because demand is growing (China and India are buying more oil to support their growing economies) and because supply is shrinking (conflict in the Middle East, fewer and smaller new fields being developed).

Gas prices are also rising in this country because the value of the dollar is sinking relative to other currencies. This is happening primarily because we’re so far in debt to other nations, like China, to support our lifestyle. So, even if crude oil prices stabilized, we would still need more dollars to buy a barrel as the value of the dollar slips.

So, as Thomas L. Friedman points out in his op-ed New York Times editorial Dumb as We Wanna Be, cutting the gas tax will make our current problems worse. It will encourage gas consumption by artificially lowering the retail price of gas and by putting us deeper in debt thanks to the loss of tax revenue.

People are struggling, but there has to be a better way to help them then by cutting the gas tax. McCain and Clinton both know this, but they’re desperate for votes. I think we should freeze the retail price of gas at $5 per gallon. That way, for every gallon we buy, OPEC and oil companies get $3.50 and the U.S. Treasury gets $1.50. People will naturally economize (I had better stop at the store on my way home from work since I’m now more conscious of the costs of travel), and the price of crude might go down due to decreased demand. If we kept the gas price frozen, though, the treasury will receive the cost savings and we would continue to discourage frivolous consumption.

What might we do with all the tax dollars coming in? I don’t know…maybe improve our public transportation or put in some bike lanes. Maybe we’ll retire some of our debt and shore up the value of the dollar.

Either way, gas is heading to $5 per gallon. It’s up to us as voters to decide if we want to keep any of that money in the U.S.

Photo credit: “Fire and Water” by peasap


When the Enemy Calls America

“291 enemy of the state” by Mahi Teshneh

“To put it bluntly [long pause] to put it bluntly, if the enemy is calling into America, we really need to know what they’re saying, and we need to know what they’re thinking.” –President George W. Bush, this morning

This was how the President urged lawmakers to give his administration free reign to eavesdrop on international calls. It also might signal that he’s approved covert CIA psychic, telepathic, and ESP programs because of our need to know what they’re thinking.

But really, Mr. President, don’t we need to know how the enemy is feeling?

Before we do all of this, let’s find out where the enemy is. First, do we have the enemy’s phone number? If so, I hope that you will resist the urge to call the enemy, wait for him to pick up, and then hang up on him. That is so junior high.

What do we do if the enemy calls from a phone booth, or a neighbor’s house? Ugh, that’s a problem. We should probably filter all calls coming from the enemy’s neighborhood — no, country. Countries.

Damn it! America has so many enemies. Why? It’s not fair.

Oh, wait. I get it. We’ll need to filter all incoming international phone calls. Now you’re talking. But isn’t that a lot of work? Well, we’ll leave it to the NSA to figure that out. It won’t do us any good unless we tap the outgoing calls, too. Let’s put that in the bill. Don’t forget to monitor Internet traffic, too. The enemy will soon have access to DSL, but you didn’t hear that from me.

I’ll admit it kind of bothers me that this kind of eavesdropping will inhibit, say, our media’s ability to gather accurate news worldwide since, you know, anyone conveying sensitive information that is critical of U.S. policy would kind of be an enemy (not you Joe Wilson, but I’m looking at you, Daniel Ellsberg.). Oh well, you can’t make an omelete without breaking some eggs. Given the choice between freedom of the press and safety from the enemy, I know which I would choose!

There, now we’re safe. I feel such a relief! Congress can leisurely investigate steroid use in baseball without having to worry about the enemy.

But here comes that worried feeling again, Mr. President. What if this plan doesn’t work? What if there’s another attack that was planned through homing pigeons, satellite phones or, shit, I don’t know, telegraphs or something? What will save us then? Detention camps? Suspended elections? Loyalty oaths? Dude, we have one…it’s called the Pledge of Allegiance and it sill works like a charm.

Sometimes, though, I catch myself wishing there was a way to talk to the enemy once we get him on the phone. At the very least, we might honestly appraise what we did, decades ago, to start this war and what we’ve done in the years since to feed the flames.

God, that’s so naive! I wish I hadn’t said it. We’re America, and we’re at war! We’re in it to win it! Hooah!

Just one thing, Mr. President. If Congress gives you the authority to use this power, you must promise not to abuse it this time.


Obama for President

Barack’n the Mic, courtesy of barackobamadotcom on Flickr

I saw a sticker on a pick-up truck yesterday with the word Clinton on it. The “C” in Clinton was in the shape of a hammer and sickle, insinuating that Bill Clinton or Hilary or both are closet Soviets, which is just dumb. The Clintons have been the most conservative, business-friendly Democrats to come to power in the last 100 years.

Many republicans have held a vitriolic hatred for Bill Clinton and his presidency that I think is due, in part, to his encroachment on their territory. He’s the man who reformed welfare and reduced Federal spending during his tenure.

I can’t understand, however, why so many people hate Hillary Clinton. Is it because she bucked the narcotized, smiling First Lady persona so capably reinstated by Laura Bush? Was it the way Hilary tried to orchestrate health care reform in this country, or merely that she got involved at all?

I don’t know. I’ve never been a Hillary hater. I think she would make a capable president. I just don’t think she would be elected to the office if given the nomination.

Hillary’s electability is not why I’m voting for Barack Obama in tomorrow’s caucus. I’m voting for him because he’s the first leader I’ve ever had the chance to vote for.

I started voting in 1988. I voted then for Michael Dukakis, a politician, who lost. In ’92, I voted for Bill Clinton, a politician, who won. Over the years, I’ve voted for politicians for governor, mayor, and so on down to dog catcher. Not one of them, however, inspired me as a leader. I considered records, experience, and political philosophy when voting. I figured that inspiring figures — people like JFK and FDR — just didn’t exist any more in these days of speech writers and campaign consultants.

And then, one night, I heard Obama speaking to an audience at the University of Washington, broadcast on the local NPR station. This was back in 2006, before he decided to run. I just heard the end of the speech, but listened as he took questions from the audience. The force of his intellect and compassion came ringing through in every spontaneous answer. He provided a stark contrast to our current microphone-shy dummy of a president.

I thought, “I want this man to be our next president.”

Sure, Obama has no direct executive experience, but neither does Hilary, unless you give her credit for Bill’s eight years in office (by that reasoning, I’d be an expert in animation). Also, intelligence and hope do not always combine for the best presidencies (case in point, Jimmy Carter). But I think Obama has a better chance to unite us as a country than Hillary Clinton or John McCain, for that matter.

I’ll vote for him tomorrow. I hope to vote for him in November, too.