Friday, December 18, 2015

OPINION: Gruesome Outdated Party

I understand the appeal of Donald Trump. I understand the “badass” attitude of not giving a f*ck and just “going for it” when it comes to national security. I understand the concept of not taking crap from anyone and being bold and brash and hardcore. I understand the mentality that this is “our country” and the need to do whatever it takes to protect it. I understand the heroic aspect of going after the bad guys and kicking their asses.

The problems with this are numerous. For one thing, we’re no longer a fledgling of a country who’s rebelling against the oppressive “mother” country, insisting we can do it on our own. We’ve proven that. We are a full-fledged world power. We should act like it.

The things Donald Trump and many of the Republicans are saying, they sound like little kids talking about what they would do if they could. It’s not realistic. It’s not mature. All this “tough talk” is for someone who is trying to convince others of their power. We don’t need to convince anyone. We need to wield it with responsibility. The more we flaunt it, the more enemies we make worldwide. We have achieved our goal of becoming one of the most powerful nations on Earth. We should act like it. Not with bullying and exclusion, but with grace and civility, which includes helping others who need it.

Building a big wall between us and the next country is a remarkably immature schoolyard type of behavior. “This is my stuff! You can’t cross this line!” We’re supposed to grow out of that attitude by the time we get out of middle school. It’s not like we don’t have enough to go around. With all the excess and gluttony and obesity we have in this country, it’s plain to see that we could stand to share a bit more. Isn’t sharing one of the first things we learn as kindergartners?

This is why I feel we as a nation have outgrown the Grand Old Party. It was Grand. In a time when we needed it, when we still used words like “Grand,” it was necessary and significant. Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, was against the war with Mexico (which current GOP seems to be in favor of), and he promoted the modernization of our economy. Times have changed, our economy is thriving, and we still shouldn’t be at war with Mexico. Now the Grand Old Party is just “Old.” We’re past that. We need a political party and a political outlook - an ideal - that has evolved along with our nation.

The “Republic” aspect of our government is well-established. We are not under the rule of a monarch. It is an outdated assertion. What we need to assert now is the Democracy aspect of our government - that the people and their voices matter and should shape the future of our nation. The Republican party is trying to cram our entire population into a pair of pants that no longer fits. The Democrats recognize that we’ve grown and continue to grow, and it’s time to get a new wardrobe. Our needs have changed, and our behavior and policies should change and evolve along with them.

I think it’s a bit far-reaching to say that the time for a new party has arrived. I realize we need to take baby steps. You can’t drastically shift something as large and complex as our country without much of it falling down. What I would like to see is for a Democratic leadership to win several terms in a row, showing that the Republicans are obsolete, and let another party rise from the ashes - a new party who takes an evolved stance against the Democrats. Let them improve on the ideas and continue to make us better.

In the fashion of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party, which later split off into the parties we know today, perhaps the Democratic party, in the interest of fine-tuning to get us closer to perfection, should split into more specific aspects of the current party. The Democratic-Liberals vs. the Democratic-Conservatives.

Leading a mature country like ours requires a mature leader, and I don’t think Donald Trump is that person. His childish insults and boasting are not the way I want to be represented on the world stage.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

OPINION: What Would Bernie Do?

In the last two days a small transformation has taken place.

I have been reading a lot of public commentary on the American presidential primaries. I've seen a lot of people get really mad at each other for their opinions. I wrote some of my best stuff on a Bernie Sanders thread that seems to have been since deleted. It's a shame, because I wanted to copy my wise words and paste them here.

What I learned from that exchange, and my passion for my responses, was that keeping calm and not descending into insults and blaming leads to much clearer, truer statements. Also, when I remove much of my opinion from it and stick to facts what I say has a lot more power.

I have often read over things I have written, sometimes years ago, and I find myself cringing at some of the things I chose to write. There may be a few nuggets of wisdom in there, but I typically don't even finish the sentence of truth before I've gone and added something that makes my face and palm meet.

I may look over this later with a palm full of face as well, but I feel I owe my serenity to Bernie Sanders. I was reading a series of posts from a woman who is a Hillary Clinton supporter who came by the Bernie thread to call out a Berner who was trolling the Hillary page. I'm sad and embarrassed to say that she was attacked by several people who said very nasty things to and about her. In responding I said that these people do not fairly represent Bernie's supporters. The more hate and vitriol I saw, the more I was inclined to say, "at least I hope not." That is when I started thinking, WWBD? What Would Bernie Do? He would keep a cool head, not let his opinion get in the way, and he would come back around to the issues: the American middle class, military veteran services, climate change, the prison business, and so forth. All the things he sticks to and believes in "to the point of monotony" I believe I said. In the first debate he even defended Clinton on the email "scandal" and that reminded me that we don't have to hate and we don't have to take cheap shots at our opponents. What we need to do is look out for our fellow man and try not to do any harm.

This has led me to be able to think clearly about things and see different sides of issues while not letting my prejudice cloud the message I'm trying to get across. For a lot of people. thinking of things from the perspective of "what would Jesus do?" works for them, and that's great. For me there's a bit of a disconnect between me and Jesus. As much as I've let Him into my heart and I love and support His word, all I have is some quotes and stories in a book which I honestly haven't even read most of. With Bernie I've seen him speak, I've heard his words in his own voice, I've seen his passion, and I can more easily put myself in a frame of mind to ask myself how he would react in different situations. No disrespect to Jesus whatsoever. But Bernie (spare me the irony of him being Jewish, I get it) is a contemporary of mine. I can relate to his word because I'm living in the same world as him. Our struggles are the same, and don't require imagination to update the message to modern times, interpreting the word to fit our circumstances. Thinking of Jesus does give me some peace and level-headedness, but thinking of how Bernie would respond helps keep me on point.

I'm very sad and scared for my family, my country and for Bernie, when I listen to the Republicans debate about how to best keep immigrants out of our country, who will be faster on the trigger when it comes to bombing the Middle East or shooting down Russian planes, and how the corporations, the big money, the 1% must be protected. I fear for my family because if the Republicans get into the White House we'll likely all be dead in a matter of months. I fear for my country because the rhetoric of the GOP only makes other countries hate us more passionately than ever. I fear for Bernie because if, God willing, he is able to get elected, his term will be short before someone, and I have little doubt that it will be someone supported by the government, shoots him dead. Based on his record I think Bernie would be glad to die a martyr for the cause of equality and true patriotism, not to be confused with the flag-waving, gun-toting, slur-slinging far right, though he fights for them too, whether they believe it or not. It makes me sad that this man, who is trying to make America and the world better for everyone, and has fought his whole life to do so, has so little to show for it. It makes me sad that a clown like Donald Trump is able to bring out the worst in people, and the media eats it up. Many people across the world get the bulk of their news and world reports from television, and television is not giving them an accurate picture of the state of the world. To be fair, I get my news of the world mostly from Facebook, which is indeed pitiful and narrowed by the people and things I choose to view. I'm certainly not getting the whole picture either. But based on the recent debates alone I can say with certainty that I don't support the Republican ideals.

But you see, in spite of my strong feelings about this topic and my concern for the American middle class, I managed to do no worse than calling Trump "a clown," which I think is an arguable point. I didn't devolve into name-calling and profanity. I think that's progress.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

REVIEW: Xzibit - Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2004

I know I'm coming late to this party, and I have not had the experience of watching Pimp My Ride, but I recently purchased this disc from my local Rhino Records.

I like the production on this album. I like the minimal instrumentation/samples. Most tracks have a good solid beat and not a bunch of nonsense.

Xzibit has a really poetic way about him. He says profound things with conviction and intensity. There are only about 3 lines on the album where he says something I consider silly. I think at one point he says that he's "build Ford tough." In Ride or Die he speaks of "real gangsters" and how they don't say they're going to shoot you, they just "hit the trunk, cock it and spray it" then he says, "Light up your Christmas" which sounds silly. I don't know what Christmas has to do with it.

The "Steady Gang" of Strong Arm Steady does a great job of supporting him and they provide a welcome variety to the tracks.

My top 3 favorite tracks on the album are Beware of Us, Ride or Die and Tough Guy which features Busta Rhymes. When you listen to Tough Guy be sure and start with track 12, Big Barking which is the intro to the song. It makes the conclusion make sense. These tracks have catchy, melodic choruses that are fun to sing along with.

Honorable mention goes to Crazy Ho, which does not feature X to the Zizzle himself, but provides some comic relief to the otherwise serious and heavy subject matter.

Other favorite tracks include LAX, Criminal Set, and Saturday Night Live.

Least favorite tracks are Cold World, mostly due to the bad synchronization of the bass and drums, and the album's first single, Hey Now (Mean Muggin) as it moves away from the simplicity of the other tracks, overdoing it with the samples and production. Plus the chorus is not very catchy.

Overall it is a very listenable album and, except for when my 6-year-old is in the car, it's the only CD I have put on for the last two months.

Great job, Alvin Joiner.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I see it now

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about how we see ourselves ("Who Do I See?" Jan. 18 2013), about how our reflection in the mirror is what we think of when we think of ourselves. I guess these days the way we look in our selfies is how we see ourselves. It's why you'll notice, as soon as the selfie is snapped, everyone crowds around the phone to see how they turned out in the picture. One person will say, "No, delete it, that's terrible" when all they are looking at is themselves, not even noticing how the other people in the photo look.
That's when I realized something. It's not universal, or even that common, perhaps, but for some of us with low self-esteem the worst pictures we've ever seen of ourselves is how everyone sees us on a day-to-day basis. If we ever look okay, it's fleeting and nobody remembers it. It's always that worst angle, that most unflattering of light, all the shadows in all the wrong places, that people see and remember. As I walk down the street I'm thinking that everyone who looks at me sees those photos Ricky Gervais took of himself in the bathtub a couple of years ago. And I also, for some reason, think that, if I can see them, they see nothing but me and observe every movement, every nuance in my presence, and they're judging every bit of it.
Then I have to scold myself for thinking that I'm significant enough that people even notice me, let alone think about me. Then, if I do make eye contact with a stranger, and they do anything but the polite, innocuous smile and keep moving, then I see it as fear and repulsion at this creepy freak with no proper chin.
I will admit that I've never given too much consequence to my appearance. Even if, now in my adulthood, I wanted to, I have the excuse that I live with three women and one bathroom. What chance do I have to get any grooming time? But honestly I doubt that has much to do with it. The ways in which I'm critical of myself are probably not the things other people notice about me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

OPINION: The problem with America's gun laws

The problem with the current gun laws in America is that there is nothing we can do to stop mass killings. With the gun-ownership sympathizers, there appears to be no legal recourse to prevent such things. People are allowed to own whatever guns they want, they are allowed to buy and keep as much ammunition as they want, and in many states they’re allowed to walk around with their guns. It’s not until they actually start killing that they’re breaking the law. So that’s the line we want to draw? It’s all fine and good until you actually start shooting people.

If gun laws were more strict (I’m not talking about disarming everyone, just using some common sense) we could make it illegal at some point before the killing begins. If it was illegal to buy certain weapons of mass killing, that would reduce the number of such devices that are available. Fewer would make their way into the hands of would-be killers. If it was illegal to walk around with a gun, people could be arrested just for that, and before the killing began.

If the writers of the Second Amendment to the Constitution saw the kinds of weapons we have today, I believe that even they would say that certain restrictions or limitations should be put in place.

The NRA and other “gun nuts” act as though any kind of regulation is “taking our guns away.” That is a dangerous mindset for everyone in this country. If they feel that they’re being threatened, then they become a threat. If they believe the government is trying to take away their rights, they might retaliate in a violent way with the intent to take over the government in order to protect this one particular right.

Is it not reasonable to ask the people to relinquish some of the extremes of their rights in order to protect hundreds of their fellow countrymen?

I keep hearing the argument that armed citizens make the country a safer place. Well, WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU WHEN ALL THESE SHOOTINGS HAPPENED?

The NRA is a dangerous radical group that needs to be closely observed and monitored. The extent to which they fight to maintain NO regulation on firearms makes them a public hazard.

I normally don’t like to engage in debates on issues that affect large groups because of my concern that I might be wrong. I realize I might be wrong about a lot of this. I know that there are circumstances in which I would be glad that the NRA exists and that so many Americans are so well armed. But the sheer volume of times I wish we WEREN’T so free with our firearms doesn’t compare to the number of times I’ve been glad that we are.

I'm glad these people were able to prevent more killings with their personal guns. It's a good argument for that side. Note, however, that this is 12 examples over a period of nearly 17 years, several of the "good guys" were cops or security guards, not average citizens, and NONE of them used assault rifles.

I own a gun. I like my gun. I don’t want anyone to take it away from me. But then it’s practically an antique, with a clip that holds 7 rounds. If my household was in danger, if someone was trying to break in or harm a family member, I would be supremely grateful to have it available to me. It would do a fine job of stopping an attacker, or even just scaring them away. And ultimately that’s all I want. I don’t need them dead. I’ll be honest, if someone seriously hurt my daughter, I would want them dead, and me and my gun would do all we could to make that happen. But there is no way I am going to use my gun to take on the government, the military, the police, or a bunch of school children.

With all the weakness of recent generations of Americans, with the removal of competition from schools, the “snowflake” mentality, etc., there are a lot of butthurt psychos out there, as evidenced by all the school shootings we continue to experience. Something needs to be done there. Strength of character does not come from saying that nobody is any better than anybody else and that we’re all special in our own way. Strength of character comes from facing struggles and overcoming them.

That said, if every kid who got picked on in school can gather up his daddy’s guns and go “get them back” for what they did (and in most cases get people who didn’t do it also), we’re going to continue to have immature, unstable killers who take away the right to live from dozens of innocent (and some not-so-innocent) people, and usually end up killing themselves as well, by self-inflicted gunshot or suicide by cop. So they aren’t saved by their actions. They would be better off starting with themselves. Nobody likes it when our kids kill themselves, but better that than taking a handful of lives on their way out.

If gun owners would relinquish some of their guns and rights in the interest of the common good, we could dramatically cut down on the senseless slaughter we see daily in this country.

I say we hold the NRA and its supporters accountable for every mass killing by firearm in America from this point forward. They’re so insistent on keeping their guns “for protection” let’s put it on them to actually do some protecting. If they insist on maintaining this right in spite of all the harm it’s doing to hundreds of people each year, they should have consequences. The majority of Americans are coming around to the belief that allowing some form of regulation of guns would be helpful in this fight against gun violence, yet the gun people are fighting – AGAINST the majority – for their right to keep the killing going. If they want to fight for the rights of the killers, they need to share in the burden. Because your insistence on keeping guns “for protection” is infringing on the rights of those of us who believe in trading some of these “rights” for the lives that can be saved by doing so, you become accomplices in every killing done by these weapons.

Everyone gets mad sometimes. We even get mad enough to kill once it a while. For many of us, a waiting period is a good thing, because it gives us a chance to calm down about it and think reasonably. With readily-available guns, we might fall victim to our passion and do something we later regret. If it is not a heat-of-passion thing and you can wait it out, buy the gun, and then go do your killing, then that is premeditated and punishable as Murder 1. As it should be. But if we can flag people who buy tons of weaponry and stockpile ammunition, we can at least keep an eye on them, and if we see them coming out of their house in a bulky trench coat, we can follow them and be prepared for the possibility of an impending tragedy.

I believe that gun violence perpetrated by police is a serious issue in America. I think there are a lot of problems with the system and the mentality of police officers, and something definitely needs to be done. I actually feel very strongly about this. Nowhere in my mind, however, am I thinking, “we should just shoot these cops.” In all the tragic situations I’ve heard about, with unarmed people and harmless dogs being murdered by police, my reaction is always, “they need to be held accountable. They need to face consequences. They need to lose their jobs and go to jail. There needs to be a better screening process for police officer candidates. There needs to be a new mentality introduced into the career of law enforcement.” Never, in all the horrific acts I’ve heard, read about, or watched videos of, did I think, “somebody SHOOT those pigs!” I think they need to be stopped. I don’t think anyone should throw their life away by killing an officer. I don’t think guns are the answer.

Nobody who is putting forth any reasonable proposals is saying “take away all the guns.” I am not saying it, Obama is not saying it, the New York Times is not saying it, the CDC is not saying it. What everyone keeps saying is that we would all benefit from relaxing on our insistence that our gun ownership rights not be touched in any way. My personal belief is that no citizen needs an assault rifle. If a hunter says he needs a fully-automatic rifle for his livelihood, he should seriously look into another career, because if you need to spray bullets at 1,200 rounds per minute, then frankly you’re a really bad hunter and you should quit. There is no excuse for military weapons in the hands of civilians. So then the argument becomes, “but if the government gets out of control we need to be able to overthrow them.” To that I say, go for it. Take on the U.S. military. See what that gets you. We have a system in this country where, if you don’t like something, vote it out. Guns are not the answer.

I’d like to address the gun debate from two sides, addressed to two entities.

1)      To the NRA and its staunch supporters: they’re trying to take your guns away. Load up and go fight for your right, because the right to keep your killing power trumps all other rights and privileges including the rights of all other Americans, whether they agree with you or not. Take on the military, the police, anyone who tries to take your guns.

2)      To the U.S. Military (all branches): look out, a bunch of gun nuts are coming after you. Get ready to take them out.

Now let’s see what happens.