Tag: Politics (page 1 of 2)

500 Words on Blamethrowers

“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

I don’t know for sure if I’ve coined this term myself, or if it’s existed for a while, but I’ve been using “blamethrower” quite a bit lately. As in: “so-and-so made a mistake or became aware of a mistake someone else made, and they broke out the blamethrower.” It’s far too common a practice to pawn off responsibility for a mistake, no matter how large or small, onto another person.

Let’s be clear right from the off: we are responsible for our own actions.

Courtesy Netflix

When we make a mistake, we want to find some explanation. Ideally, an external source — a diagnosed (or undiagnosed) mental condition of ours, a flaw in another person, extenuating circumstances. If we can seize upon one, out comes the blamethrower. We set alight the explanation quickly, setting it alight so that it draws attention, ours and that of others, away from the bad decision we made and towards whatever we’ve chosen to bear the brunt of the blame.

The insidious part is, it’s very easy for others to break out their blamethrowers as well. Fire is fascinating, and it attracts onlookers. All too often, they jump on the bandwagon, contributing fuel to the fire. In these days of social media and infectious groupthink, this can happen at an alarming rate.

Even worse, this can happen when the party getting set on fire has done nothing wrong.

Victims of assault and abuse are set alight with blamethrowers all the time. In those cases, it is often referred to as ‘gaslighting’. The more fuel is added to the fire, the more the person in question is dehumanized and perceived to be something or someone they’re not. As the rumor mill spins up to dizzying speed, throwing off flames like a Catherine wheel, it gets harder and harder for the person in question to cope with the situation, determine their true role in things, and assert their inherent personhood.

Worst of all, blamethrowing is a tool that can be used to further political agendas.

Those in positions of power, be it the potentate of a nation or the vanguard of a social group, can mobilize their key supporters to bring someone forward as a strawman to set alight. The nature of the person or the particulars of the circumstances matter little; what matters is burning down someone so that the “ruler” looks better by the light of the flames. When you exist in a social group, if you make a mistake that offends, or suffer abuse at the hands of, a person or people in power, it’s all too easy for you to come under fire; the bandwagon rolls on, and you are crushed underneath.

The only thing we can do in the face of blamethrowing is assert our sovereignty, own our portion of responsibility (if any, in the case of victims of abuse), and strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in light of everything. It’s never easy. But it’s all we can do.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Mother, Should I Trust The Government?

Courtesy Warner Bros.

You know, I had a nice, light post ready for today. I was going to talk more about big robots. Go into a little more detail about where my love of the genre comes from. Give Pacific Rim a bit more love. But I can’t in good conscience do that. Why, you ask?

My government is having a tantrum that puts most four-year-olds to shame right now.

More specifically, the House of Representatives is doing the governmental equivalent of crossing its arms, pouting, and refusing to do anything whatsoever because it didn’t get what it wanted. It didn’t convince the President and the Senate to consider changing the Affordable Care Act. So, this august body of elected officials has decided that if it ain’t happy, nobody’s happy, and has pulled the plug on the federal government. The Library of Congress? Closed. NASA? Shut down. Employees? Out of a job, at least for the time being. A lot of so-called journalists are asking “Who’s to blame?” and pointing fingers at the President, at the House, at the Tea Party…

and it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter who’s to blame, even if the answer should be fairly obvious to a reasonable human being. I would love to just tell everybody I know what bad news the Tea Party is or has been for years, but Chuck Wendig’s already covered that far better than I ever could. In the end, though, it’s not about blame. It shouldn’t be about who’s at fault for the United States government being in this sorry state. What should matter is, how are people going to live? Why are families with no connection to this particular debate being made to suffer because of obstinate thinking and overblown rhetoric on such a massive scale?

And what can we, the people, do about it?

That’s probably not a question the government wants us to consider. They’d like us to forget that “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is the assumed manner under which they’re meant to operate. Instead, for years the government (Congress in particular) has operated of themselves, by themselves, for themselves. I’m not a big conspiracy nut, but I don’t consider this a conspiracy. In fact, in light of recent events, it seems rather obvious. With rhetoric aimed at instilling fear and pointing fingers, they have taken power away from the constituents and squirreled it away in the hopes of putting the disenfranchised in an even worse position so they can elevate themselves. As much as I think making the blame game the central question of the shutdown is detrimental to progress, it should be clear that no matter how it began, the end result of this is a government uninterested in the common citizen to the point of refusing to do what’s in the population’s best interest.

I’m not saying we should rise up against our leaders. I’m not calling for revolution or anarchy or anything like that. Violence won’t solve this. It’ll just make things worse.

However, I don’t want this to be forgotten.

Sooner or later, the parties will come back to the table. Some sort of compromise will be negotiated. A deal will be struck. And the government, Congress in particular, will hope that we just forget this ever happened.

If you and I have anything to say about it, we will never forget.

We should remain vocal. We should assert our rights. We should make our leaders aware of what this will cost them. We should keep in touch with one another, do what we can to keep ourselves going, share stories, offer comfort. And we should vote.

I’m not calling on my fellow Americans to take up arms. Instead, I want them to remember.

I know the first of October does not lend itself to catchy rhymes as much as the fifth of November does, but…

Hey, I’m just saying.

“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Memento Mori

American flag

For two years running I’ve made the same post on Memorial Day, which starts something like this:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

We have the country we have today because people got pissed off enough to fight for it.

America’s military is based entirely on volunteer service. People enlist for various reasons, from pure-hearted desire to serve the country to paying for a college education. And those who can already afford college can embark upon a career as an officer right from the start. The important fact, though, is that none of it is compulsory. Nobody is making these young men and women sign up for service that could ultimately mean they’re going to die far from home, in some foreign land, possibly alone with no one to remember them save for a line item in a report listing them as “Missing In Action”.

Other countries compel their citizens to join the military from an early age. There’s no choice in the matter. Regardless of how you feel about your country, you’re going to be serving in its military. As much as I admire Heinlein, the idea of compulsory military service being the only route to citizenship is a pretty scary one. But unless I’m mistaken, no country has gone completely that far yet.

Here, though, every person who puts on that uniform, male or female, young or old, gay or straight, left or right, does so for the same reason. They want to serve. They chose to answer the call to duty. Nobody made them.
And if they died on a foreign shore, they did so as the ultimate result of that choice. As lonely, painful, cold and dark as it might have been for them, it is a deep hope of mine that they do not consider themselves forgotten.

We have not forgotten.

Read the rest here

It may seem we have forgotten to some veterans, though. If they make it home, they tend to bear scars, and not always obvious ones. It’s shamefully easier to sympathize with a soldier who’s lost a limb or suffered major facial trauma than it is one who seems intact in body but says nothing about what’s going on in his or her mind.

These are people who, because of a choice they made, have stared death in the face, and been told, ordered, demanded not to flinch.

We hold soldiers in high esteem. Most see them as brave or even fearless. But they’re human beings, just like you and me. They have our doubts, our fears, our weaknesses. They, like us, are mortal. They’re going to die, and some die on foreign shores because they’re told to be there.

They fight for us anyway, and that’s what makes them great, and worth remembering.

I don’t have any particular charity or cause to champion here, nor do I know how easily one can get to some place like Walter Reed to see what becomes of those who only partially make it home. All I ask is that you remember them, not just today, but every day.

In Memoriam 2012

I know it may seem a bit lazy to rehash an old post, but this one is special and my sentiments towards our veterans has not changed. It’s likely I’ll do the same this Independence Day, but we’ll set off those fireworks when we get to them. In the meantime, please read, enjoy, and remember. Thank you.

American flag

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

We have the country we have today because people got pissed off enough to fight for it.

I think this country has a long way to go before it fixes all the bridges that have nearly been burnt to the ground because of the actions we’ve taken in the name of securing our borders. That doesn’t mean that the men and women who died in service to the country should not be remembered, or that their sacrifice should be downplayed or marginalized. They were called upon to do their duty, to fight while others stand idle, and they answered.

America’s military is based entirely on volunteer service. People enlist for various reasons, from pure-hearted desire to serve the country to paying for a college education. And those who can already afford college can embark upon a career as an officer right from the start. The important fact, though, is that none of it is compulsory. Nobody is making these young men and women sign up for service that could ultimately mean they’re going to die far from home, in some foreign land, possibly alone with no one to remember them save for a line item in a report listing them as “Missing In Action”.

Other countries compel their citizens to join the military from an early age. There’s no choice in the matter. Regardless of how you feel about your country, you’re going to be serving in its military. As much as I admire Heinlein, the idea of compulsory military service being the only route to citizenship is a pretty scary one. But unless I’m mistaken, no country has gone completely that far yet.

Here, though, every person who puts on that uniform, male or female, young or old, gay or straight, left or right, does so for the same reason. They want to serve. They chose to answer the call to duty. Nobody made them.

And if they died on a foreign shore, they did so as the ultimate result of that choice. As lonely, painful, cold and dark as it might have been for them, it is a deep hope of mine that they do not consider themselves forgotten.

We have not forgotten.

Wars are horrible things. The necessity of force to further political or economic gain is an indication that cooler heads and well-spoken reason have not prevailed over base, animalistic instincts. Canny leaders and generals will at least do what they can to end the fight as quickly and directly as possible. Sun-Tzu teaches us “There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.” He was right 2000 years ago and he’s right today. However, this doesn’t mean that those that fight in wars are as horrible as the wars they fight.

Indeed, war can show the very best of human nature. Comrades helping one another through the battlefield, nobility in the face of unstoppable odds, compassion for one’s enemies; these are all things I feel we do not see or read often enough. In the pages of dry, procedural after-action reports are many such stories yet untold. In finding and telling them, we help to remember what it is to be a volunteer soldier, to choose to fight, to exemplify in our conflicts who we are as a country and what we stand for.

It’s probably my idealism creeping back into my rhetoric, but I’d like to think that, more often than not, on the front lines in foreign lands, the men and women of the American military ‘being all they can be’ means professionalism, respect, audacity and resolve. These volunteers should represent the best and bravest of us. They chose to defend our interests and our country, and we in turn are compelled to remember. For them it was voluntary; for us, back at home, living our lifestyles the way we are due to countless sacrifices born of their choices, remembering feels compulsory.

To all the men and women of the past and present who have chosen to serve America, making sacrifices from a few lost years to the one that means you’ll never see us again:

Thank you, and God bless you.

Does That Banner Yet Wave?

Courtesy Betsy Ross

One of the reasons I love living near Philadelphia is the history. So much happened in that little port town in a short period of time before New York grew to gargantuan proportions and Washington, DC became the capital city. The reason Americans have a holiday to celebrate on this date, in fact the reason why Americans have a country, was a document signed in Philadelphia 234 years ago this year.

It was signed because a few colonial land-owners didn’t want to pay taxes to the British crown anymore.

…Okay, all right, there’s more to it than that. The English had demonstrated that America was something of an annoying step-child, a sore spot with the French and while its resources were valuable to the Empire, the populace was somewhat irritating. After the French were beaten in the North American front of the Seven Years’ War (commonly known as the ‘French and Indian War’ in America, because who cares what the rest of the world calls something), England turned their attention to some of things America had been doing that the English didn’t like. Americans were skirting mercantile procedures to bolster their own profits, pushing westward despite angering the native tribes and were training militia rather than relying on troops from England. King George’s response was first to ask the colonies to help with the cost of the war fought on their soil (this was the ‘no taxation without representation’ thing), and then to tax the colonies directly, quarter troops in colonial homes and refuse to recognize colonial commissions of officers, basically sending the message that American soldiers were not as good as English ones.

So everybody was a little pissed off all around.

Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, which became a best-selling book on American shores with over 500,000 copies in circulation during the first year – impressive even by today’s standards. It glossed over the philosophies of Rosseau and Locke that were informing the impulses of American movers and shakers towards libertarian thinking, and presented the argument for independence to common American folk, by way of making the argument something of a sermon. So the American rhetoric began as it meant to go on, it seems.

Back in those days, freedom for Americans means freedom from foreign rule. Nowadays, freedom for most Americans seems to mean freedom to do whatever the hell we want to whomever the hell we want, whenever the hell we want. That sounds less like a democracy and more like anarchy to me, or at the very least an autocracy. Most Americans need someone to tell them what to be afraid of and who to hate today, at least. But there I go again, breaking the promise I made that I wouldn’t let this blog get political.

What bothers me is that this holiday, the day on which Americans celebrate the fact that they did win freedom from foreign rule, has been ‘dumbed down’ in a sense, at least for me. In fact American nationalism feels kind of dumb of late. Instead of singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is in fact our national anthem, a lot of sporting events and whatnot begin with “God Bless America.” The implication of that, for me, is that God should bless America and no place else. I hate to break it to these so-called patriots, but there are nations in the world other than America that need help from the Divine a lot more than we do. The worst thing we have to worry about is running out of oil or pissing off another country so much that they nuke us. Other countries have people wondering what the hell they’re going to feed their kids today.

Americans have that problem, too, but ask the average conservative Republican if they care.

I’m going to veer into political territory one more time, if you’ll indulge me. To me, being an American means having freedom of thought and expression. We are forgers of our own destinies as individuals, and any force that seeks to oppress, dumb down or stifle our ability to think and decide for ourselves should be our enemy, not necessary a foreign power with a different point of view. We should be worrying about how to feed and educate our children, honor and care for our elderly, employ those in need of a job and play a positive role in the future of our planet.

Instead we are told to buy what we can, even if we can’t afford it, that we should be afraid to go anywhere outside of America and any notion of health care or fuel supplies that cost less (if indeed they cost anything) are decidedly un-American. All “good” Americans should bow down to the Free Market the way they bow down to the blond-haired gun-toting Jaysus that loves little fetuses and hates anybody who worships anything other than Himself, meaning Jaysus is “a good American.”

I hope I don’t need to go into detail as to why that line of thinking is bullshit.

Francis Scott Key asks the question “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

To me, it does, and it will. As long as people continue to think freely, and bravely rail against notions that seek to stupefy, retard or oppress the rights of the individual, it’ll wave proudly. This is why I call today ‘Independence Day’, not ‘the 4th of July’. This is why I pay as little attention to fanatical rhetoric from either side of the political debate as possible – in the case of the right, I follow some folks on Twitter just to know what the enemy is thinking. I want to engage my brain when I salute my flag, you see. I don’t want to do it just because some bloated blowhard tells me I should. I want to be proud of this country and, in a way, I am.

I’m proud of the fact I can bang out all of these words without fear of getting dragged away in an unmarked van to be shot behind the chemical shed. I’m proud that the people with whom I disagree can be marginalized or even ignored because nobody in this country has absolute power. I’m proud that in spite of all of the free-floating negativity, people are still out there trying to do good, making an effort to improve the world around them instead of just fattening their own pocketbooks and being kind to one another – and some of those people happen to be Americans, thank God.

Yes, Americans are arrogant. Yes, we throw our weight around a bit more than we should. And yes, we have a lot of humble pie to eat from the last decade or so of shenanigans we’ve perpetuated in the name of defending ourselves.

But America is still a country worth defending, and even if in the future the word ‘expatriate’ might follow my nationality, I’m proud to be an American.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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