the dreaming tree

in restless dreams i walk alone…

Capital Punishment – A Response… January 12, 2010

The following is my reply to a blog entry written by a friend of mine in regards to the Death Penalty.

  • “The alarming fact is the low number of people actually executed in the United States after the Furman vs. Georgia decision suspended the death penalty from 1972 to 1976. In fact, only 1,191 executions were performed from 1976 to the present. The total number of executions performed in the United States from 1608 to the present is also staggeringly low.”

Certainly not going for an unbiased beginning, are you? Why not just come right out and say “We’re just not executing ENOUGH people, dammit.”

But I’ll skip over your little “History of Capital Punishment in America” bit, and get right down to the point…

  • “1. Probably the most important point of the abolitionist’s argument is that some people have been put to death who were later found innocent. I had always considered this argument to be more of and indemnification of the judicial process itself. This argument could be applied across the board for all cases when the guilty party was charged erroneously. But it would not be prudent to suspend all sentencing, because of the imperfection of the process. The process of determining guilt will never be perfect, but will always be getting better and not worse.”

I’ve always had problems with this argument of yours. It seems that you have no qualms about admitting that our justice system is inherently flawed. The problem lies in this idea that the death penalty is no different than any other legal consequences handed down by the court system. There is a vast difference between imprisoning someone and executing them. While the years of imprisonment cannot be given back to an exonerated person, they still have some semblance of a chance at having a life. In the instance of capital punishment, however, there is NOTHING that can be done to rectify the execution of an innocent person. Even if I were to agree that murderers deserved the death penalty (which I do not), I could not, in good conscience, support a system in which there is the potential to put innocent people to death. I realize that in your mind, these innocent people probably serve as “collateral damage” in the War on Senseless Murder… (Might as well follow the government standard of declaring war on intangible ideas.) “Sacrifice the few for the good of the many.” Am I right? I say that in a society as technologically advanced as ours, with the potential to be far more so, it is unacceptable to think that the governing body of our country would knowingly sacrifice the lives of a few innocent men in the name of vengeance. And yet, they do. Meet Cameron Todd Willingham – (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann) (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0412090169dec09,0,1173806.story) Very likely innocent, murdered by the State of Texas. 139 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973. (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-and-death-penalty) Imagine how many more fell through the cracks.

  • “2. The abolitionists view and opinion of some of the courts is that the eighth amendment, which states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Well this opinion has differed back and forth between cases on what is considered cruel and unusual punishment, including capital punishment. But if we were to apply the statement of the amendment equally, that would include million dollar bonds against people considered to be flight risks or multimillion judgments against companies. The founding fathers were not clear on this in their own time, as the death penalty was used 1,200 times during the period between 1750 and 1800 according the ESPY file.”

I’m a little confused as to what your statement about applying the amendment equally is meant to imply. We should apply the amendment equally. But excessive fines and bail are not the points up for debate here. Money is far less valuable than human life – or at least, it should be. So, can capital punishment be considered to be “cruel and unusual punishment?” Cruel – is relative. To the man who wishes to live, death may be a cruel punishment. To a man who wishes to die, it is not. However, moving on to the “unusual” bit… Globally, the United States is in the minority, in regards to capital punishment. In fact, out of all of the industrialized European countries – in not a single one is the death penalty legal. The United States is in the company of nations such as Afghanistan, China, the Congo, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, North and South Korea, and Sierra Leone, to name a few. (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0777460.html) So, given that capital punishment is no longer the norm, it can be concluded that it most certainly can be described as being “unusual.”

I’ll skip the religion bit, as it doesn’t apply to me, and since you have no good argument about the deterrent effects of the death penalty, I’ll only ponder that briefly – It is worth noting that the murder rate in states where the death penalty is legal is anywhere from 48% to 101% higher than in states in which it is illegal. (http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/the-death-penalty-and-deterrence/page.do?id=1101085) Certainly not doing much of a job as a deterrent.

  • “5. Some abolitionists use the tough man argument in order to appeal to those that would like tougher sentencing on crime. They claim that it is far more horrible to live a life sentence in prison, than take the easy way out with death. I disagree. Even though suicide rates on death row are higher than in the general population of prisoners, the majority of death row inmates fight on till the end. This argument also tips the scales at other criminal sentencing. Why should someone like Bernie Maddoff get the same sentencing as that the Son of Sam.”

So put the murderers in a 6×6 cell, on 23-hour lockdown, no tv, no visits, etc… There are plenty of punishments that many would find to be worse than death – Isolation and it’s resulting insanity could easily said to be one of them. The idea that life in prison isn’t a good enough punishment in no way justifies state-sponsored murder.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about cost… Though the statistics vary from state to state – they all have one thing in common: Death penalty cases cost more than comparable non-death penalty cases. In Kansas, they cost an average of 70% more, and in Tennessee, 48%. California’s current system costs the taxpayers $137 million a year – but if they abolished the death penalty, it would cost $11.5 million. (http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-cost/page.do?id=1101084) Just think what that much money could do if it were instead used towards methods that really DO deter crime – mental health care, addiction treatment, education, social services…

All of that being said, it matters very little when compared to the most fundamental point of the argument – Do we, or does our government, have the right to decide who should live and who should die? The answer, in my mind, is a resounding NO. What makes us think that we are wise enough, or enlightened enough to have the right to deprive anyone, even the most heinous of criminals, of their life?  We are but fallible human beings, and as such, are far too prone to make mistakes to be trusted with such power. As it stands, capital punishment is one of the most discriminatory practices in place in our society. 95% of death-row inmates are defended by overworked and underpaid public attorneys. The death penalty is sought more often for white victims than for minority victims. Whether or not to seek the death penalty is decided by the prosecutor, leaving the system wide open to political corruption and personal opinion. And did I mention that 80% of all executions nationwide occur in the South? (http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-and-arbitrariness/page.do?id=1101083) The fact of the matter is – we are not qualified to make that decision.

To me, the entire idea makes no sense. Killing someone in order to teach that killing is wrong… Talk about hypocrisy. This practice of government-sponsored murder that we have in place is barbaric, and has no place in a progressive society.

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Dissent: The Next Great American Crime… December 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sparkler420 @ 12:36 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” – Harry S. Truman

I was reading an article earlier called “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.” — http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/144833

Good article. Thought-provoking, and all that jazz. Anyway – for those of you who don’t want to read it, the basic premise is that the civil rights of American citizens are being thrown out the window – like the right to a fair and speedy trial, due process, and so on, and so forth. The denial of these rights is largely unknown – and when it is found out, it’s justified in the name of the “War on Terror.”

The media says that a TERRORIST was arrested in such-and-such place (read: American-born Muslim non-violent activist known for protesting the War in Iraq), and we subsequently turn a blind eye when this AMERICAN CITIZEN’s rights are systematically denied. First it’s the Muslim-American activists. Then it’s the Anarchists. Then it’s Greenpeace… And then one day, in a not-so-distant future, I wake up to the sound of the fucking Gestapo pounding on my door, or the sensation of having a black bag thrust over my head, or the sight of the cigarette-smoking-man sitting in a black sedan in front of my house, ready to arrest me for writing this blog entry.

But it’s easy to pretend that we are a FREE people… just so long as it’s not our rights being stripped away… It’s easy to believe the media when they call a man a terrorist before he’s even stood trial… We don’t know that guy. He looks like a terrorist, right? I mean, he’s Muslim. Has a turban wrapped around his head. Not to mention the facial hair. Must be a terrorist.

“In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.” – Reverend Martin Niemoller

It’s easy – until it’s one of us.

Once upon a time, the word “conspiracy” was just a word. Somewhere along the way it became a crime. Charging someone with conspiracy is surprisingly easy. No physical evidence necessary… Just the word of two or three “witnesses” (credibility optional)… and *boom* – you’re in the land of soap-on-a-rope. How long do you think it will be before “dissent” is no longer just a word? It’s not such a stretch to imagine that the words that I type here today may someday be considered an act of terrorism. And then it’s no longer just about THEM. It’s about US. All of us… who dare to tread the path of non-conformity.

A quote comes to mind – by the French writer Voltaire — “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” See, Voltaire knew a little something about the price of freedom. The price that I pay for my freedom is your freedom. If you and I disagree, I might find the desire to censor you tempting. In fact, there’s no “might” about it. Of course it would be nice to be able to slap some virtual duct tape on your mouth and pretend that I won the argument. But as soon as I do that… As soon as I advocate the censorship of my adversaries’ ideas… I open myself up to that same censorship. The bumper stickers are correct – Freedom isn’t free. In order to enjoy the freedoms that I have, I have to put up with others spouting ignorant bullshit that I don’t agree with.

The same applies to the rest of my civil rights… If I expect them to be there when I need them, I have to do my best to ensure that they are there when everyone else needs them – my enemies included. We can’t pick and choose which American citizens deserve to have their civil rights. It doesn’t work that way…

We, as a nation, have allowed our fear of “terrorism” to pave the way for the slow, quiet, eroding destruction of our civil liberties.

Right now, for most of us, it’s easy to ignore. We still have the illusion of being free. Forget the fact that we’re all slaves to the United States Government – working our asses off to pay them to repeatedly fuck us over. Forget the “War on Drugs” taking away our freedom to do whatever the hell we want with our own bodies… Forget that half of us are actually convinced that the words “right to bear arms” don’t ACTUALLY mean that we have the right to bear arms. We’re FREE! Mmmkay?

But someday, 10 years, 20 years down the line… we’ll wake up and the illusion will have faded, and we’ll all come face to face with the stark realization that we aren’t free at all. Not even a little bit.

So what do we do now? How do we destroy the monster that was born of our fear? How do we stop the cancer from spreading? Honestly, I have no idea… Most of the time I’m too much of a cynic to think that anything, short of a full-fledged revolution, can fix that which is wrong with the American government. But I’m open to suggestions.

And now, a word from our sponsor:

“Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat. There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent. Last night I sought to end that silence. Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey, to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives. So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.” – V (V for Vendetta)

“And I thank you for your attention, and I’m out of here.” – Kurt Vonnegut…

😉

~The Sparkler

 

Equal Representation…? December 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sparkler420 @ 12:34 am
Tags: , , ,

I picked up a book today from the “bargain books” table at the local grocery store… the first paragraph reads as follows:

“An enterprising researcher explored in 2005 the backgrounds of a highly selective and well-publicized group. He found that 36 had been accused of spousal abuse; 7 had been arrested for fraud; 19 had been accused of writing bad checks; 117 had directly or indirectly bankrupted at least two businesses; 3 had done time for assault; 71 could not get a credit card because of bad credit; 14 had been arrested on drug-related charges; 8 had been arrested for shoplifting; 21 were current defendants in lawsuits; and 84 had been arrested for drunk driving in the prior year.

No, the data did not relate to the 350 players in the National Basketball Association, but to our 535 elected representatives in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.”

Angry constituent: “Congressman Smith is a liar, a thief, a womanizer, and irresponsibly lazy.”

Political insider: “Quite so. There are millions like him and they deserve representation.”

The book is Called Heroes, Hacks & Fools: Memoirs from the Political Inside by Ted Van Dyk. I have no idea if it’s any good. I don’t even know if I’m going to agree with the expressed viewpoint. I haven’t gotten past the first chapter. But I did like the first paragraph. It makes a good point. And I’m not talking about the obvious one here – I’m sure that we’re all well aware that politicians, in general, are corrupt, lying sons-of-bitches. But perhaps that’s the point… They are, after all, supposed to be a relatively accurate representation of the constituency… So, given the percentage of crooks and liars out here in the “real world” – is it such a surprise that some of the men and women who we elect to represent us are also crooks and liars? That then begs the question: Well, don’t the assholes deserve equal representation? Isn’t that sort of the idea of a republic? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not making the argument that we should embrace the sneaky, scandalous motherchuckers… I’m just sayin’ – They’re only as good as the people who elect them. To expect more from them than that is to reach too high… Going forward with this vein of thought, then… the only way to make a real actual change (not the Obama kind) in our government is to start by first making that change in the constituency. If we expect our government to work together and make constitutionally sound decisions – then we, as the electors, must start working together, ourselves. The percentage of Americans who consider themselves to be politically “moderate” centrists is shrinking at a rapid pace. People are leaning farther and farther to one side or the other, becoming less and less willing to make compromises. Our inability to put our heads together, to work towards a common goal… to sit down at a table and look at the arsehole on the other side and say  “Okay, here’s our problem… what are we going to do to solve it?” – it is this inability that is killing our nation. There was a second there, after 9/11, when the vast majority of Americans were on the same page… It may not have been the right page – the jury’s still out on that one – but for the most part, united we stood. And then it all went to hell. Once upon a time – a group of men from all different political backgrounds, with different ambitions and different viewpoints, worked together to do something absolutely crazy… They staged a revolution. They gave the King of England the middle finger… And our great nation was born. They didn’t all agree – our Founding Fathers. Some of them didn’t agree on anything, much less whether or not to revolt… but they had the good sense to see what their realistic options were, and they worked together to make something happen. Imagine what would have happened if they’d just argued incessantly about whether or not dissent was patriotic… Recently, on some radio show or other, Lucky made the point that  the Libertarian Party may be the essential “meeting point”, so to speak, of the left and the right… (all apologies if I misrepresent your words here, good sir…) I, for one, think that he’s right. Libertarian candidates receive support from both sides of the isle. Republicans generally agree with half of what they say – and the Democrats agree with the other half. So perhaps it’s time we start backing the right horse – the Libertarian one. Anyway – my point is – no, we don’t have to get all “Kumbaya motherfuckers”… However, it would be in our best interests to try to find a middle ground – even if we don’t always like it. After all – in the words of the Rolling Stones – “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find – you get what you need.”


~Sparks

 

Liar… December 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sparkler420 @ 12:34 am
Tags: , , , ,

From

The Roycroft Dictionary – Concocted by Ali Baba and the Bunch on Rainy Days —- printed in 1914

(Done into a printed book by the Roycrofters at their shop for the divertisement of the Gloomsters.)

LIAR: 1. One who tells the truth about something that never happened; hence, a poet, a preacher, a politician, or an arctic explorer. 2. An expert witness on the side of the Prosecution, or any witness called by the Defense. 3. One who reasons far ahead of his time; a seer. (As all combinations of facts must occur in endless time, the liar, no matter how absurd his statement, is uttering a truth, because he is stating a fact that has occurred or will occur at some future date. Thus, a liar, in the sense of one who utters a falsehood, can not be said, strictly speaking, to exist. As dirt is merely nectar in the process of evolving, so a liar is an observer born out of his time. He is a victim of a divine prank.)

 

Manifest Destiny and the “Greater Good” December 9, 2009

There is a topic which has dominated the comments on U4Prez for the past few days – cloaked behind words like “nation-building,” “globalization,” “responsibility…” I spent the better part of my day yesterday arguing with Hawk about the inherent “goodness” of America. There are those here who believe that the United States can do no wrong… Or that, at least, the good that our government does in the world far outweighs the bad… I sometimes wish that I, myself, were able to adhere to this viewpoint, for as they say – “ignorance is bliss.” I am not such a cynic that I can’t remember the days when I, too, believed that our nation was a source of light in a dark world… But I was naive then – I believed what my high school history books told me. The facts, however, the things that they leave out of those books – the information that I had to go looking for on my own, tells me that this is not true… That the widespread vision of America as a “Beacon of Light” is nothing more than illusion… Sleight of hand.

The phrase “manifest destiny” was first used by John O’Sullivan, an American newspaper editor, in 1845. It portrayed, in 2 words, the idea that the United States was destined to stretch across North America, “from sea to shining sea.” This concept, while not an official government policy itself, encouraged westward expansion – leading to the passage of legislation such as the Homestead Act. Many Americans embraced the idea – not only did it expand land use opportunities, but it broadened their horizons, so to speak – gave their children a wider range of choices for their futures. “Manifest Destiny” was promoted in newspapers, splashed across posters, and even supported by influential figures of society – such as famous poet Rudyard Kipling. And it was not a new concept – even then. The United States was already engaged in westward expansion long before the term “manifest destiny” was born. One of the first steps our government took to expand their borders was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803. The words, however… that simple little phrase – “manifest destiny” – provided the United States government with precisely the catch-phrase they needed to garner support from the American people. Over the years, this school of thought has had a negative impact on many – from the Native Americans, Mexico, and various countries in South America to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan… The concept of Manifest Destiny, and how it was presented to the American people, may well be the most successful propaganda campaign the United States Government has ever waged on its own citizens… It has grown, evolved… we no longer simply seek to control all of the land from one ocean to the other – rather, much like a small white mouse named “Brain”, we have the idea that it is our god-given right to control the rest of the world. However, unlike Brain – we are not so honest in our approach… We hide behind deceiving phrases like “spreading democracy” and “bringing freedom…”

The Native Americans were the first to suffer at the hands of westward expansion. The Cherokee Indians protested the attempts of the state of Georgia to force them from their land in the early 1800’s, saying “We wish to remain on the land of our fathers. We have a perfect and original right to remain without interruption or molestation. The treaties with us, and laws of the United States made in pursuance of treaties, guaranty our residence and our priveleges, and secure us against intruders.” However, between 1820 and 1850, the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes were pushed off of their homeland in the South and forced to march all the way to a reservation in Oklahoma. As a result of the many Native American deaths caused by disease and starvation along the way, these marches became infamously known as the “Trail of Tears.” A New England woman condemned the actions of the government at the time, writing “In the whole history of our government’s dealings with the Indian tribes, there is no record so black as the record of its perfidy to the Cherokee Nation.” In 1864, approximately 8,500 Navajo Indians were removed from their homes and put in a confinement camp in New Mexico. The relationship between the United States government and the Native Americans only worsened when, in 1887, the General Allotment Act gave the government the power to take what was once the Native Americans’ land and parcel it out as they saw fit, giving the Native Americans only small areas to live on. Even today, they are still fighting to get back what was taken from them – such as land, water, and mineral rights.

And then, of course, there was the Mexican-American War. “The belief that the U.S. basically had a God-given right to occupy and ‘civilize’ the whole continent gained favor as more and more Americans settled the Western lands. The fact that most of those areas already had people living upon them was usually ignored, with the attitude that democratic English-speaking America, with its high ideals and Protestant Christian ethics, would do a better job of running things than the Native Americans or Spanish-speaking Catholic Mexicans.” – Roger A. Lee. (http://www.historyguy.com/Mexican-American_War.html) From 1846 to 1848, the United States and Mexico were involved in a conflict over the state of Texas. Mexico refused to give up ownership of Texas despite the fact that Texas had successfully seceded from Mexico in 1836. Our government saw this dispute as an opportunity to claim the sovereign state of Texas as its own. Ulysses S. Grant, a participant in the war, wrote “I do not think there ever was a more wicked war than that waged by the United States in Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not the moral courage enough to resign.”

With the gain of Texas came a thirst for more land – and in 1898, with tensions high between Cuba and Spain – opportunity came knocking. Harboring expansionist ideals, fueled by the yellow journalism tactics of men such as William Randolph Hearst, and operating under the guise of saving the people of Cuba from themselves – the United States went to war with Spain. There were many who spoke out against the actions of the government – and a group of “Bourbon Democrats” who believed in limited government formed the American Anti-Imperialism League. One of the most prominent members of the league, Mark Twain, condemned the war, decribing it as “a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater.” Of the American invasion of the Philippines, he wrote that the United States had gone there “to conquer, not to redeem.” Eight months after the war began, the Treaty of Paris was signed, giving the United States control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

Need a few more examples of how the United States has overstepped its role in global politics? From 1959 to 1975, the United States lost almost 60,000 soldiers in its attempt to turn Vietnam into a democratic nation against their will. The word “communism” still has the power to strike fear in the hearts of Americans, a leftover effect of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Today, America finds itself squarely in the middle of a conflict founded upon the principles of Manifest Destiny, but hiding them behind the more popular term – “nation building.” Using “weapons of mass destruction” as a scare tactic, and under the delusion that “America knows best,” the U.S. invaded Iraq, resulting in the deaths of over 6,000 American soldiers, journalists, and contractors, and an estimated 1,366,350 Iraqis. And now, we’re sending more  troops to Afghanistan.

And all of that is still only the tip of the iceberg. To elaborate – let’s talk debt forgiveness… The G8 (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia), has made the decision in recent years to forgive the debts of Third World nations – a move which, on the surface, appears to be a selfless act of generosity designed to help those living in poverty throughout the world. But what so many fail to see is that this is not about debt forgiveness at all – but about opportunity and greed. We must remember that those debts were accumulated without the consent of the majority of the people in those countries and served to make the corporatocracy of America and its allies – and a very select few Third World families – even richer. Large corporations would send “economists” to research the nation’s economy and its natural resources, and to creatively form an evaluation which would justify a loan from our government for the industrialization of that country. Included in the terms of the loan agreement would be a requirement that the recieving nation would hire specific American companies to complete the designated projects – thus funneling the vast majority of the loan funds back into the pockets of wealthy American CEO’s. Due to loan terms that were based on very optimistically exaggerated economic growth reports, the borrowing nation would be unable to make good on the loan, at which point, the United States – wanting its “pound of flesh”, so to speak – would take payment in the form of political and military support, as well as access to natural resources – primarily oil. The economy of the borrowing nations would sink rapidly, throwing the middle and lower classes into poverty.

Their debt should be considered paid in full – after all, we got our payment – by exploitation and manipulation. However, the G8 decision only grants them “forgiveness” for their debt if they will agree to a number of conditions – cloaked in terms like “good governances”, “sound economics”, and “trade liberalization.” Enticing language – but also extremely deceptive. These policies are only “good” and “sound” if you’re looking at them through the rose-colored glass of a corporate office window. The countries that agree to these conditions are required to privatize their public services, including health, water, electric, and education – essentially selling them to the corporatocracy. They are forced to drop subsidies and trade restrictions that support local businesses – while at the same time accepting that the U.S. and other G8 countries have the right to subsidize certain G8 businesses and erect trade barriers on imports that threaten G8 industries. When Bolivia gave in to such “good governances” policies, it opened the door for multinationals to privatize its water supply system – prices of water skyrocketed and Bolivians claimed that service was suspended to thousands of people. In Cote d’Ivoire, the French firm that bought the assets of the privatized telephone company reportedly raised prices so high that many people had to forego connections to the system, including university students who could not afford internet access essential for their studies. In Tanzania, these policies led to the appalling situation where children have to pay to go to school, and, many of them being too poor, fail to do so. Similar stories abound in countries across the globe that have accepted the conditions that come as a prerequisite to what is being inaptly called debt forgiveness. The Third World is well aware of what is going on – and they are angry. The resistance in 2005 to the G8 meetings in Scotland was, to a large degree, an expression of anger against the deceptions. Many people believed that Bush and Blair were simply playing “good guy” “bad guy” in an attempt to legitimize a highly exploitative system that is balanced heavily in favor of multinational corporations at the expense of the poor, starving citizens of Third World nations around the world. “Debt forgiveness” should be as good and generous in actuality as it sounds on paper.

“In its twenty-first century incarnation, Manifest Destiny has disguised its racist rhetoric but still wears proudly the garb of self-righteousness and arrogance. In a State of the Union speech, President Bush declared: ‘Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation… America is a strong nation and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.’ tell this to the Native Americans, the Puerto Ricans, the Filipinos, and the Central Americans. Tell it to the Mexicans who had populated the Southwest since the sixteenth century. Tell it to the vast majority of their descendants whose legal and economic rights have been denied systematically since 1848. Tell it to the families of hundreds of Mexican immigrants who have died at the militarized border simply because they sought a better life.” – journalist Jorge Mariscal.

The United States has a long and sordid history of trying to force its system of government on other nations… Politicians hide behind the assertion that the only goal is to improve the lot of the backward masses, that it is all for the “greater good,” as though we – an infant of a nation in comparison to some – are better able to make policy decisions for them than they are able to make for themselves. We live in a nation where lobbyists have a louder voice than the constituents, with a government owned by corporate America. Our politicians lie to us, selling promises of lower taxes and healthcare reform like the ShamWow guy selling us overpriced bits of fabric. We have corrupted our system here at home, we’ve sold our liberty for a false sense of security, and we’ve discarded all of the principles that our nation was founded upon… And yet, we think that we know better than the rest of the world? I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – you cannot impose freedom upon someone… it’s an oxymoron. As George Santayana said – “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” History tells us that our interventionist policies bring nothing but harm to those who we claim to be freeing… And yet, here we are… making the same mistakes over, and over, and over again – Simply because the vast majority of us refuse to look beyond our government-censored educations to find another, less biased viewpoint. Do you honestly wonder why radical terrorist groups hate America so much? I look at our history, and I wonder that we’ve made it this many years relatively unscathed… If someone did to us the same things that we have done repeatedly to nations all over the globe – how do you think we would react? You speak of the American government as though it were Santa Claus on Christmas morning, bringing joy and happiness wrapped in shiny paper and tied with a bow to the rest of the world… I, for one, refuse to leave the blinders on. And despite what you say Hawk, I don’t believe that means that I hate my country. On the contrary – I love my country. I speak out against my government because I feel that my government is failing me, failing my fellow Americans, and failing the principles that it has sworn to uphold. I love my country too much to sit idly by while that happens.

Well then… I thank those of you crazy enough to read that whole thing… And look forward to the biting remarks that will inevitably spring from it.

~The Sparkler

 

The Death of the Mix-Tape December 5, 2009

I love music… I’ve loved music my whole life. As an infant I slept best when surrounded by the sounds of The Beatles, or Bob Seger, or even Black Sabbath (when my father got his way.) My grandpa taught me how to dance to the music of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw. The first non-Sesame Street song I ever learned to sing was “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. When I was 9 years old, if my mother wasn’t home,  I’d put Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits on the Stereo and dance around the living room singing at the top of my lungs, pretending that I was Stevie Nicks. And so on, and so forth… Someone once told me that you could learn far more about a person by perusing their cd collection than you would over the course of a 3-hour conversation. I believe this to be true…

Because I love music so much, I love to share it with other people… hence – the mix-tape. Before the days of cd burners and mp3 players, there was the lost art of the mix-tape. Now, if you think that putting together a playlist and burning it onto a cd for your buddy to listen to, or compiling a nice playlist for your MySpace page is the same thing as making an old-school mix-tape, you’re wrong. The end result may be the same, but for me, it was always about the process.

The last time I made a mix-tape, I was 15 years old… A computer with a  cd-burner was a relatively new thing – I didn’t have one… and the few kids at school who did were the ones making cds for all of the other kids and charging them $5 a pop. My friend Jason’s birthday was coming up, and as is often the case with me, I wanted to give him the gift of music – songs that I thought he would like, that I was pretty sure he’d never heard before. So I set about the arduous task of making him a classic “Alison” mix-tape. Unlike burning a cd – which only takes a few minutes – putting together a tape was sometimes a days-long process. I sat down on my bedroom floor with my cd-player, all 400+ of my cds, a notebook, and a pen. I’d listen to hundreds of songs, and make a list of the ones that I wanted to put on the tape, then put them all in the right order… Couldn’t have 2 songs by the same band back to back… that was just sacrilegious. Then came the hard part – actually recording the songs onto a tape. a 90-minute cassette usually took 2 hours to record… all of the pausing and switching cds between each song… It was a pain in the ass – but one that I welcomed… A labor of love. And then, to finish it off, I wrote every song on the little sleeve inside the cassette case, and put together a tiny little collage with pictures and magazine clippings for the “cover.”

Now, it seems, the art of the mix-tape is all but dead. I mean, sure – If I wanted to make an old-school mix-tape, I could. But what would I play it in? Certainly not my car… or my bedroom, which doesn’t even have a stereo – just big speakers hooked into my computer… So now I make playlists… Like the one below, the one that you’re probably listening to right now. It’s the closest thing to a mix-tape that I have to offer… Interestingly enough, that little playlist took me over 2 hours to compile… I guess I just miss  the process.

So enjoy – this is what my “mix-tape” would look like if I were to make one today…

~The Sparkler

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Life, the Universe, and Everything… June 30, 2008

Preface: When this was written, it was meant to serve as an explanation of my spiritual beliefs… Over the course of the past year+, I’ve learned more in regards to physics, theology, history, philosophy, etc… and were I to write this today (Jan. 9th 2010), it would probably look a bit different. The basic premise, however, is still much the same. So, enjoy…

To begin with – I don’t practice organized religion. It would be far easier to say “I am a Christian,” or “I am an Atheist,” than it is to define what I do believe – but I am neither. I’ve spent the greater part of the past 10 years searching to find some sort of pre-established belief system that made sense to me, that I could believe in – but none of them fit me, and I have no desire to be a part of something which casts judgement on other people and is responsible – either directly or indirectly – for most of the wars that have been waged in the history of mankind. And so, at some point, I gave up the search – and instead began the arduous task of defining precisely what it is that I believe, to figure out how best my existence can serve those beliefs, and to live a life that is a reflection of them.

In 1931 Einstein wrote that “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” In this regard, I am very much like Einstein. I do not believe that there is a supernatural, all-powerful being looking down on us from a lofty perch, passing judgement and controlling the events of our lives. But I do believe that there is a driving force that affects the lives of everything on the planet. There is a number – scientifically termed “Phi”, and also known as the Golden Ratio, or the Divine Proportion. This number has fascinated some of the greatest minds in history for over two and a half millenia. All throughout the entire design of the universe – plants, animals, etc. – the Divine Proportion can be seen. In its shortest format, Phi equals 1.618. The entire bone structure of the human body – including the dimensions of the face – is built on a ratio of 1:1.618. Phi can be seen in almost anything on Earth – dolphins, butterflies, seashells, ants… It’s found in the organizational structure of a beehive, flower petals, pinecones, sunflower seeds, tree leaves, etc. Even our DNA is built on the Divine Proportion. It is, in essence, the first building block of the universe. This – the mathematically organized rationality of the universe – is why I firmly believe that our existence is more than mere coincidence. It cannot be explained in the simple terms of the Big Bang Theory, or the primordial soup that some think we are descended from. But I also don’t believe that we are simply pawns in a spiritual game of chess.

Einstein’s studies on space and time revealed the existence of a 4th dimension. Humans are 3-dimensional beings, and as such, are able to perceive themselves and the things around them, as well as 2-dimensional objects – such as a drawing on a piece of paper. But, in the same way that a 2-dimensional stick figure is unable to perceive us, we are unable to perceive that which exists in the 4th dimension. A tesseract is a 4-dimensional cube, also known as a hypercube. It has 8 sides, whereas a 3-dimensional cube has 6 sides. our limited perception is unable to comprehend and 8-sided cube. To me, God is very much like the tesseract – a 4-dimensional concept which our 3-dimensional minds cannot understand. I believe that God exists very much the same way that space and time exist – perhaps they are even more similar than we realize. But, because they also exist on a level that we can’t comprehend, we try to box them into a form that is easily identifiable to us… We measure time and space, give them names and numbers – much the same way that organized religion measures and gives name to God. But our idea of space and time is no more than an illusion to make us more comfortable about that which we can’t understand – and so perhaps our limited understanding of our place in the universe is an illusion also. I cannot believe in a Higher Power which rewards and punishes its creatures based on their actions, or lack of action. Nor can I fathom the idea of such an entity having a free will of the kind which we experience in ourselves. God is what he is – not what we want him to be.

All of that was essentially the “why.” Now, we turn to the “what.” I believe that every living organism in the universe is interconnected, and that every action that we take has an effect on the rest of the universe – though we may never see or feel that effect. This effect is neither negative nor positive – it simply is, and because of our actions and the effect that they have, the world is constantly changing and evolving. I believe that there is a presence outside of ourselves – call it what you will – that is responsible for the balance required to sustain life and maintain our existence in the universe. I believe that presence can be seen in all things – music, art, nature, wildlife… life, and death. I believe that wherever this presence can be found, comfort, serenity, and purpose can be found also. The peace that I am able to find in these things is what I’ve spent the last decade searching for – and I don’t need a book or a building to tell me where to find it. I don’t believe in good and evil, heaven and hell – instead I believe that all humans are fallible, and that sometimes as a result of circumstance and distorted thought processes, we often do things that hurt the world around us, because we – though perhaps wrong – perceive them to be necessary to our survival. I stand firmly by the idea that we are all fully responsible for the actions that we take and the things that we do, however – mistaken and misguided actions do not make any of us bad people. Earlier I said that I don’t believe in heaven or hell – but I do believe that some part of us continues to exist after our body dies. Incidentally, Einstein theorized that if we could ever gain the full use of our brain capacity, rather than the miniscule percentage that we generally utilize, then we would have no need for physical bodies at all – but would exist purely as energy. The ultimate enlightenment, so to speak. I believe that it is this energy that survives beyond our death, and perhaps this energy that is responsible for the interconnectivity between all living things on Earth. The universe that we are a part of is infinite, and as a result, the number of things that we aren’t capable of comprehending or understand is also infinite.

My beliefs aren’t meant to provide answers for anyone – in truth, they still leave me with many questions on my mind – but they provide me with a peace of mind and a sense of acceptance that I, personally, am unable to find elsewhere. As a result of these beliefs, I choose to do the very best that I can to remember every day that my existence and my actions have an effect on the rest of the world, and to make decisions so that those effects do more good than harm. I am responsible for that which I do on this Earth, and only for myself. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am, and to accept that I cannot control the actions of others. But I can control my actions – and in order to do so, I must focus my energy on seeking out the peace and serenity that my spirituality gives me. I pass no judgement on the beliefs of others – we are all different, and as such, often travel different roads to get to the same destination. Just as I am entitled to my beliefs, so too is everyone else.