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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Conscience of a Libertarian:

At first, I was going to call this post, "I now have man-boobs," but ultimately, I thought that would be oversharing. Also, I felt it would be sadly apropos to make a reference to one of the most prominent Republicans of the last century. I decided to do that as an example of how depraved an overwhelming majority of the leadership of the "conservative" wing of American politics has become. I doubt very seriously that Goldwater would even recognize the Republican Party today, and ultimately, his most worthy heirs aren't in the GOP, but rather in the fractured Libertarian Party. While I don't agree with everything former Senator Jeffords believes, I too find myself alienated from the party I once called home in my younger years. This is a problem that has been building for years, but stubborn as I am, I still looked for positive things to say about the mainstream of that party because of my agreement with their stance on fiscal matters. Well, as the last few years have demonstrated, any talk of their fiscal responsibility is laughable at best. As for the rest, well, that's the reason for this post.

The depth of my philosophical differences between my views and my former home, the GOP, has become increasingly obvious. I find the increasing element of extremism and fanaticism among the new "mainstream" Republican Party disturbing on a variety of levels. Perhaps most relevant to today's political climate, I strongly oppose "enhanced interrogation" on 8th Amendment grounds, as not only is that "cruel and unusual punishment", it rises to the level of government-sponsored torture, which is a far more serious offense. Also, it's a clear violation of the habeas corpus rights of prisoners, and of the Fifth Amendment, yet the GOP mainstream considers this acceptable when our government didn't even treat Nazi war criminals as poorly. Certainly, the public opinion of these depraved individuals was no more positive than modern public opinion of terrorists, yet we held to our more noble ideals back then. Instead of lowering ourselves to their level, we held fast to the calling of our better natures. I am sickened to see that we have become that debased in the 62 years since, and I have no doubt that, if they are looking down on us, our departed ancestors are turning in their graves.

Another example of my philosophical differences between the mainstream of the Republican Party is the recently-overturned Georgia law that prohibited all sex offenders from living within 1000 feet (305 m) of playgrounds, churches, schools, bus stops, public parks, and other places where children congregate. Can you think of a single place outside of Montana or Alaska that would fit those criteria? I'm in favor of protecting children, but these draconian measures seem more than a bit counterproductive, not to mention unconstitutional. There's that pesky 8th Amendment again, and for all their bloviating about the Bill of Rights, that's one amendment they by and large are determined to ignore.

To those who read this blog, it should not surprise you when I say that I am not a liberal in the modern sense. However, I have come to realize through conversations with a liberal Northern Democrat I know the fundamental differences in how he and I view the world. Even when we agree on issues, it is often for vastly different reasons, though those differences are most likely to occur in matters of governmental fiscal policy. So while I'm not likely to align myself completely with the Democratic Party, I'm much more likely to give them a chance, because the modern Republican Party is something I find frightening and alien to the greater American values, and a complete affront to the ideals laid forth in the Constitution and its amendments. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm starting to see parallels between modern America and Germany during the 1930s, and that scares the hell out of me. Also, it hurts me to see this happening to a nation once seen as a bastion of hope and liberty. I want America to be great again, but that will not happen as long as the reactionary wing of the Republican Party has power.

On a lighter note, and I use that term very loosely, I'm including a link to a YouTube video, one that was one of my father's favorite music videos. Since embedding has been disabled for this video, I'm including the link instead. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reflections on the past:

I mentioned that, back in my high school years, I walked that fine line between genius and insanity, and my feet ended up bloody. In less than 2 years, I wrote 150-200 poems, a couple of dozen short stories, a few extremely bad songs (though they could have been hits today with the extreme shittiness of modern pop music), and 3-4 short one-act plays, all in a bid to express what was going on inside my head and to find at least some peace while I was dealing with the loss of someone very close to me and trying to resolve other issues from my past. Instead, I found myself continuously reopening wounds I really should have let heal, and in a bit of a perverse way, I even started to define myself by that pain. I didn't really let anybody in. Finally, I had to choose: continue to write from that dark place and slip further into the abyss, or give it up and try to make peace with my past and myself. So, I put down my quill, and for the next few years, I went to work, I paid my bills, and I did a good bit of thinking. During those teenage years, I once made the extraordinarily cynical observation that, no matter what, people were always going to do one of three things: betray you, leave you, or die. Over those next few years, I realized I was factually correct, but I also realized that I was ignoring the deeper issue, not even thinking to answer to one last question: Given that fact, is it worth it to keep your heart open? Over time, I came to realize that, instead of really living, I was only existing, so slowly, I started to open up and live again. As you've seen on this blog, I won't say that I haven't been hurt and that I haven't broken my own heart in the years since, but it has been worth it, because I've gained so much more, and more importantly, I've given myself the opportunity to get close to family members I had been distancing myself from, people I would have regretted not getting to know while I still had the chance. I've built friendships, and while I'm still a work in progress, at least I am still working on that progress, and I have my family to thank for that, even if they didn't always realize it at the time.

On a different, happier, note, I don't drink, or smoke, or consume caffeinated beverages. I've never consumed any illicit drug, but I have other pleasures I take from life, other "drugs" if you will. College football, especially that of my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide, is either a stimulant or a depressant, the latter especially after their 21-14 loss tonight to Louisiana-Monroe, a team that is currently ranked in the middle of the Sun Belt Conference, in a game the Tide was favored to win by 25 points. Food, oh the various odes and posts I've written about food. I savor good chocolate and enjoy it like some people enjoy a fine wine, and I can always count on food to be a comforter. Music is another true passion of mine, and the best music moves my soul, from a deep low like Nine Inch Nails music, to an energetic euphoria like some good dance music, or just make me feel better about life in general, or even make me laugh depending on the artist and the song. Literature, art, and movies move me the same way, and afterwards, I feel whatever those art forms inspired in me. In any of these cases, on a biological level, my brain chemistry is being altered by an external stimulus. The key difference is that the external stimulus is not a chemical, like alcohol, nicotine, or other substance that's directly acting on my brain. Granted, the effects are usually shorter in duration and less extreme, but this is the way I see it. And the best thing about it: it's all legal.

Finally, on an odder note, former Alabama Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall, who ran easily the most entertaining (if the least effective) campaign in 2006 for governor, is now protesting Alabama's 1998 (how I wish that were a typo) law banning the sale of sex toys by organizing and encouraging people to send sex toys to AG Troy King. I'm not sure if he's vibrating with happiness or irritation, but I'm sure he's walked in and out and in and out of his office in frustration at her antics.

Enjoy the music, "The Test", by The Chemical Brothers, featuring Richard Ashcroft. Pretty trippy song and even trippier video.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Coming out of the closet, after a fashion...

I've occasionally referred to my childhood and teenage years belonging to an evangelical Christian sect, but I've always dodged or avoided mentioning which sect. This has not been out of any shame or fear. In fact, I have many very fond memories of my childhood in that church, though not so many fond memories from my teenage years. In all fairness, though, I don't have all that many fond memories of any sort from my teenage years until I hit, oh, about 25 or so, at which point I had already gone the better part of a decade years without attending any church. It was my faith, or in the absence of that faith, what I had learned as a child that later had a great influence on my journey from conservatism to libertarianism, and by extension, from there to my current views. No, the reason I have been eerily quiet about the church I attended as a child is because I was so deeply conflicted about it, about life, about sorting out what exactly it is I believe and who I am. Also, I didn't want to have myself associated with a faith's name unless I actually had some belief in the existence of God, and I figured "why give an answer if I wasn't sure?". As of now, I still don't have the answer to that question, but I've reached a point in my life where I have to confront my past before I can move forward. Perhaps it's sad that it took me so many years to get to that point, but however it turns out, this is what I've needed to do to go forward with my life. To be honest, it's long overdue, and perhaps one of the reasons it's taken me so long is that I'm a procrastinator. As of today, I will still be in the closet in my public life about the doubts I have about the existence of any deity, but I will no longer hide my religious and philosophical underpinnings online.

Now that I've given my caveats and apology, I'll finally spit it out: From a cultural perspective at least, I'm a Mormon. It was the concept of "free agency", or free will, or however you wish to term it, that led to my more libertarian thoughts. It was the fact that, growing up, political discussions were and remain taboo inside the church that influenced my belief in the separation of church and state. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oh, and I prefer my green gelatin dessert (term used to avoid advocating a specific brand name) with pineapple (mmm, tasty), if it needs any fruit at all. I've heard legends about Mormon funeral potatoes, and I understand they're truly memorable. On the more serious charges of misogyny and racism, well, I guess I must have missed that in my attendance of several hundred, if not north of 1,000, sacrament meetings and Sunday school lessons when the teachers and speakers spoke about loving one another and other common Christian themes, or when I knew, even from a very young age, people from various ethnic backgrounds and just saw them as who they are instead of how much melanin they have in their skin. I won't say that I learned tolerance there, because I was never taught intolerance; rather, I was taught that intolerance was and is evil and that respect for other people is good both at church and at home, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. Over the last 20+ years (including the rather lengthy gap when I attended no church at all), one of the most consistent threads of discussion has been the importance of the family and strengthening those relationships. For those who are interested, the official position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was against the Iraq war, which was a very unusual step for the highest levels of the church leadership, and they were fairly early in the game when they said so. As for emergency preparedness, (I don't know how many actually adhere to this in my area, but not me), the suggestion is a 3 month supply of food and water. As I've ranted about ad nauseam, I live in a hurricane zone, and when I was a toddler, Hurricane Frederic hit, knocking out power and water in some areas for a month or more. How useful do you think three months of food and water would be then? In another instance, I've known people who were able to survive on their emergency supplies and needed to do so because of financial hardships. This isn't "apocalyptic thought"; it's simple prudence. An old saying goes, "In every life, some rain must fall." In that context, food storage is an umbrella. This is the church I grew up with and know, and while I may only be a Mormon from a cultural perspective, I'm not ashamed. For those who charge Mormonism with "End Times" thinking, well, all the ones I've met over the years certainly don't want to actively bring it about, and that is, or should be, the greatest concern about that aspect of this, or any other, evangelical Christian faith among those who are concerned with this type of thought.

Oh, and I can and frequently do curse better than some and as good as most; I have an itchy middle finger; I have and will probably continue to watch R-rated movies; I have developed a degree of misanthropy over the years; and I stopped consuming caffeine for health reasons, not religious reasons. In short, I'm not a pod person.

As for the music, although the tenor is different from most of the other stuff I post, that's only because I recently found this YouTube video. My tastes in music are much like my tastes in food: Many, extremely varied, and a lot of it. This features one of my favorite instruments, the glass armonica. Oh, and I think the guy's outfit is odd too. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A possibly libertarian defense of laws against child porn:

First, I acknowledge that it is at least possible for people on both sides of the legal debate find child abuse and child pornography abhorrent. For those against the various extant laws, some debate the penalties associated with the crime, while others debate the ethics of criminalizing indirect harm of minors. Of course, some on both sides of the debate are pedophiles, their public stances notwithstanding.

I view many things in terms of power and harm. Who has the power? Is that power being abused? Is someone being harmed? Is that harm justified? Is that harm self-inflicted? The last of those questions is irrelevant in this context, but the four remaining questions are very much at the heart of the matter. There are instances where, because of the power differential, true consent is very difficult, and in some cases, impossible. In lesser cases, true consent may be very difficult or unlikely. We saw this in the LeTorneau case and in other cases time and again.

An easy and valid justification for laws against child porn is that the person who possesses it, by the nature of that possession, is profiting from the criminal and harmful acts of themselves or others. I do not refer to those who discover such materials and make a reasonable effort to bring their concerns and the materials in question to law enforcement. This profit may or may not be financial in nature, but it is, nonetheless, profit in the form of some sick benefit to the consumer. As a result, I have absolutely no problem with those guilty serving time in prison. The problems I do have is when simple possession garners more prison time than an assault on a child; and when sentences are not tied to a mandatory treatment program. Also, I have a problem when the mandatory minimum sentence exceeds the maximum for some degrees of murder, as distinguished from manslaughter. I'm in favor of giving those guilty prison time and a lot of it, but the judges need at least some statutory discretion since every case is different. However, in particularly horrible or extreme cases, I support that discretion all the way to a sentence of the rest of a person's natural life. I don't know if this is libertarian or not, or if this topic even belongs in that particular spectrum. However, this is what I think. Take it as you will.

On a lighter note, enjoy the music.