Monday, May 31, 2010

The flotilla incident

(Edit: There's a lot going on in the world, and while I have converted this blog to focus on fiction writing, I'm still a political animal, and sometimes I have to speak out.)

There are more questions than answers right now. The facts as we know them:

1) A "flotilla" of ships was headed toward Gaza.

2) This "flotilla" was asked by Israeli authorities to divert to Ashdod.

3) The "flotilla" refused to divert, was confronted by Israeli authorities, and people were killed.

As far as I can tell from what I'm reading, those are the only concrete facts that have been established.

Things that have not yet been established, but are being speculated on and used as rallying points for various angry parties:

1) What was the "flotilla" actually carrying? Food? Medicine? Weapons?

2) Who fired first?

I haven't seen a single objective report on this situation. People are posting videos all over the web that seem to support one side's view or the other side's view. I just watched a choppy video posted on BoingBoing with commentary in English, Arablic, and I think Turkish. The video was choppy and difficult to interpret, and as I don't speak Arabic or Turkish, I can't really tell what the commentators were saying.

I also saw a video from the Israeli military, with captions in English, telling a very different story.

My point is this. When we're dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian situation, we must take any "news" report with a grain of salt. The first question we must answer when looking at a video is: who shot the video, do they have an agenda, are they a neutral party? One cannot make any assumptions in this conflict. We cannot assume a) that this flotilla was actually carrying aid, b) that the Israeli military fired first, and c) that the people they were firing at were unarmed innocent victims. Likewise, we cannot assume that a) the flotilla was actually carrying weapons and other dangerous materials to arm Hamas, b) the Israeli military was defending itself from rioters carrying knives, broken bottles, and other weapons, and c) the deaths on the ship were only a result of such defense.

I don't know what happened. I wasn't there. I haven't seen a single objective news report. The objective fact that people were killed is a tragedy. But that is all that I know for a fact.

Eyes open, people. Be smart. Don't fall from propaganda - from either side.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When do we open our eyes?

Let's recap the last few years. Briefly.

1) The economic system collapsed because the financial market wasn't sufficiently regulated by the government. As a result, millions lost their homes, their jobs, their livelihoods. The people who caused the problem gave themselves a nice bonus at our expense. The vast majority of Americans sat back in disbelief, completely unable to do anything about anything, because the decisions that caused so much chaos and destruction were being made in corporate boardrooms and stock trading floors that the average American had no access to or right to vote in.

2) 29 miners were killed in an explosion because the mining industry wasn't sufficiently regulated by the government, and the owner of that particular mine found it to his economic benefit to pay fines repeatedly rather than fix a myriad of safety violations. The miners who were killed weren't even given the benefit of a right to organize into a union, where they would at least have a voice to challenge the company's practices.

3) The Gulf of Mexico is currently being utterly destroyed because the government agency overseeing the drilling industry was rife with corruption, and let companies like BP do essentially whatever they wanted. As a result, a rig exploded, a dozen people were killed, and, again, the Gulf of Mexico is currently being utterly destroyed. The vast majority of Americans can do absolutely nothing to stop this disaster, because the decisions that led to it took place in corporate boardrooms in which none of us has a vote.

Libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, teabaggers, radical corporatists, are all convinced that government is the enemy, that freedom is the opposite of government. Yet that freedom they cherish is only freedom for a select few: those who sit in corporate boardrooms, those who own the factories, those who steer the wheels of our collective economic fates.

For the rest of us, this freedom is a lie.

You're pissed because BP is destroying the Gulf of Mexico? Alright then, go fly to London, go to BP headquarters and tell them to stop. See what happens. Sure, boycott them. That'll help. What are you going to not buy, exactly?

You're pissed because you're losing your house, because a mortgage lender lied to you? Go yell at your mortgage broker. See how far that gets you.

You're furious because your husband works in a non-unionized mine, and the mine owner isn't fixing safety violations? What, precisely, are you going to do about it? Your husband has the freedom not to work at that mine, you say? Sure he does. Is there another job available to him? Does that feel like freedom to you and your husband?

What freedom does the "free market" really offer the vast majority of people? The freedom to buy, or not to buy? How does that translate to BP? Or the mining industry? Or the financial system? Absent government intervention, what freedom do we have to hold BP accountable for destroying the Gulf of Mexico? What rights does the capitalist system grant us? What power to effect change?

Left to their own devices, capitalists will always choose the cheapest path that gets them the greatest profit, no matter what other factors may be involved. And if they have to kill people or destroy an ecosystem to get that profit, they'll do it. And there's not a damned thing we can do about it, as long as we believe the lie that this economic tyranny somehow equates to "freedom."

True freedom would be a democratic economy in which we could all participate. True freedom would be a collective understanding of our responsibility to each other and the planet. True freedom would mean that you and I could go tomorrow and vote to shut down BP and press for criminal charges for its top executives.

The anarcho-capitalist teabaggers are lying to you. If you make the government smaller, take away what little power it now has to regulate the market, then the capitalists will shortly destroy the planet in a fireball of incompetence, ignorance, and greed.

How many more massive capitalist failures that cause untold misery? How many more, before we open our eyes?

I'm not waving the red flag of revolution just yet. I just want people at least to recognize the lie. And the only solution, for now, is MORE government regulation, STRICTER government regulation, COMPETENT government regulation, and HIGHER taxes, especially on the wealthy. The capitalists need to be kept on a much tighter leash than they are now, and that costs money.

We can talk about revolution after the next massive failure of the "free" market.

Shouldn't take long. Probably already happened.

This isn't rocket science, people. It's simple economics - and in our current system, economics boils down to this:

Are you the one doing the screwing, or are you the one being screwed?

That's freedom?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cylons vs. Klingons

Cylons vs. Klingons

“Vodka is not meant to be drunk straight.”

“Russians do it.” Jesse looked at me, still holding the bottle.

“Well they're Russian.”

“I could be Russian.”

“You're not Russian.”

“God, it burned my lips!”

I squinted at him. I don't wear my glasses when I'm sitting at my laptop, so things far away tend to be blurry. “God, how much of that have you had?” He'd been making himself screwdrivers for a couple of hours.

“Not much.” He showed me the bottle, which to my unglassed eyes looked as if it had been pixellated. In other words, it was blurry as hell. But it was clearly still mostly full.

“I just wanted to know what it tasted like.”

I repeated, “Vodka is not meant to be drunk straight. It tastes like fire.”

Still, I shouldn't be one to criticize him for drinking. I'd gone through entire bottles of sherry in one night before. I'd gone through entire liters of whiskey in two or three nights. Recently, I'd started to cut down a bit, but tonight I had a shiny new bottle of Wild Turkey burning a hole in my cabinet, and it needed to be addressed. I got up from the laptop and poured myself another. Adele was singing about chasing pavements, her sweet British voice emanating from my laptop's tinny speakers, which really didn't do her justice.

Jesse came back into the room as I was settling back down at my laptop. He made some kind of odd noise, startling me, and then came over and attacked me with a smooch.

“You're being very annoying tonight.”

“You should get an Irish accent,” he suggested.

“How exactly would I accomplish that?”

He didn't seem to have an answer, and so he shuffled back into the other room to watch his television show on his own laptop. I had a novel to write, so I went back to staring at the blinking cursor. The damned thing just kept blinking, and the page kept being blank, so I typed some words onto it. I think I had the idea to write some kind of an epic science fiction adventure story, but it wasn't starting out well. I'd been watching a lot of downloaded episodes of old science fiction shows lately, which, now that I thought about it, had been the entire problem, the entire reason why I hadn't gotten any writing done. I'd just been zoning out in front of the desktop computer, watching episode after episode, killing my evenings one Cylon at a time. Now I was afraid that my writing would just be full of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, and I'd end up with Cylons fighting Klingons. Nobody would want to read that. Unless there was porn in it, and then there would certainly be a market for it on the Internet. Still, tonight I had put the television watching to bed, and I was determined as all hell to write something, anything, even if it was utter crap. I was sick of wasting my time.

I sighed. The Wild Turkey certainly wasn't helping matters; in fact, the more I had of it, the less I liked it. How could Jim Beam make a delicious rye whiskey, and this Wild Turkey stuff, which was more expensive, tasted like bathtub death?

Suddenly I hit on an idea, and started typing furiously, my fingers blurring over the keys like another metaphor I didn't have time to think of because I was too damned busy coming up with the next great science fiction epic classic adventure thingy. This was it, this was the thing that would be optioned for television, movies, and the inevitable Internet porn. There were no Cylons, no Klingons, nothing but a brand new science fiction universe that I had created myself, that was entirely mine, and that would make me millions. There would be at least twelve novels in this series, if not more, and that would just be the start.

“....hot dog stand burned to the ground,” explained Jesse, who was standing in front of the open freezer door eating ice cream out of the carton.

I blinked, realizing that I had hyperfocused again.

“What?”

“The hot dog stand – you know, the one we go to sometimes – apparently someone burned it down. It's on Oregon Live.”

“Shit, that sucks. Go away now – I'm creating a masterpiece of unbridled genius.”

He shrugged, put the ice cream back, and wandered back into the other room.

But by then, of course, all was lost. My work of unbridled genius stared at me, unfinished, the cursor blinking, waiting for me to figure out what comes next. I imagined my lead character sitting there in his fighter jet, twiddling his thumbs, staring at me expectantly. Ok, buddy, I thought. You tell me. What are you about to do? He shrugged. A lot of help you are.

I sighed, saved the document in progress, closed my laptop, and went over to the desktop computer. Another episode of Battlestar Galactica should help me focus my mind...