Sunday, August 29, 2010

How It Happened by Isaac Asimov

My brother began to dictate in his best oratorical style, the one which has the tribes hanging on his words.

“In the beginning,” he said, “exactly fifteen point two billion years ago, there was a big bang and the Universe–”

But I had stopped writing. “Fifteen billion years ago?” I said incredulously.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m inspired.”

“I don’t question your inspiration,” I said. (I had better not. He’s three years younger than I am, but I don’t try questioning his inspiration. Neither does anyone else or there’s hell to pay.) “But are you going to tell the story of the Creation over a period of fifteen billion years?”

“I have to,” said my brother. “That’s how long it took. I have it all in here,” he tapped his forehead, “and it’s on the very highest authority.”

By now I had put down my stylus. “Do you know the price of papyrus?” I said.

“What?” (He may be inspired but I frequently noticed that the inspiration didn’t include such sordid matters as the price of papyrus.)

I said, “Suppose you describe one million years of events to each roll of papyrus. That means you’ll have to fill fifteen thousand rolls. You’ll have to talk long enough to fill them and you know that you begin to stammer after a while. I’ll have to write enough to fill them and my fingers will fall off. And even if we can afford all that papyrus and you have the voice and I have the strength, who’s going to copy it? We’ve got to have a guarantee of a hundred copies before we can publish and without that where will we get royalties from?”

My brother thought awhile. He said, “You think I ought to cut it down?”

“Way down,” I said, “if you expect to reach the public.”

“How about a hundred years?” he said.

“How about six days?” I said.

He said horrified, “You can’t squeeze Creation into six days.”

I said, “This is all the papyrus I have. What do you think?”

“Oh, well,” he said, and began to dictate again, “In the beginning– Does it have to be six days, Aaron?”

I said, firmly, “Six days, Moses.”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ron Paul: On Neo-Conservative War-Mongering

Is the controversy over building a mosque near ground zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery?

It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

Just think of what might (not) have happened if the whole issue had been ignored and the national debate stuck with war, peace, and prosperity. There certainly would have been a lot less emotionalism on both sides. The fact that so much attention has been given the mosque debate, raises the question of just why and driven by whom?

In my opinion it has come from the neo-conservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.

They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill conceived preventative wars. A select quote from soldiers from in Afghanistan and Iraq expressing concern over the mosque is pure propaganda and an affront to their bravery and sacrifice.

The claim is that we are in the Middle East to protect our liberties is misleading. To continue this charade, millions of Muslims are indicted and we are obligated to rescue them from their religious and political leaders. And, we’re supposed to believe that abusing our liberties here at home and pursuing unconstitutional wars overseas will solve our problems.

The nineteen suicide bombers didn’t come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Fifteen came from our ally Saudi Arabia, a country that harbors strong American resentment, yet we invade and occupy Iraq where no al Qaeda existed prior to 9/11.

Many fellow conservatives say they understand the property rights and 1st Amendment issues and don’t want a legal ban on building the mosque. They just want everybody to be “sensitive” and force, through public pressure, cancellation of the mosque construction.

This sentiment seems to confirm that Islam itself is to be made the issue, and radical religious Islamic views were the only reasons for 9/11. If it became known that 9/11 resulted in part from a desire to retaliate against what many Muslims saw as American aggression and occupation, the need to demonize Islam would be difficult if not impossible.

There is no doubt that a small portion of radical, angry Islamists do want to kill us but the question remains, what exactly motivates this hatred?

If Islam is further discredited by making the building of the mosque the issue, then the false justification for our wars in the Middle East will continue to be acceptable.

The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.

Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. But many conservatives and liberals do not want to diminish the hatred for Islam–the driving emotion that keeps us in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.

The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservatives’ aggressive wars.

The House Speaker is now treading on a slippery slope by demanding a Congressional investigation to find out just who is funding the mosque—a bold rejection of property rights, 1st Amendment rights, and the Rule of Law—in order to look tough against Islam.

This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.

We now have an epidemic of “sunshine patriots” on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended.

Political demagoguery rules when truth and liberty are ignored.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Middle Eastern Wars and You

The millennial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most blatant abuses of governmental power in history. With estimates for the cost of the wars hovering around 2 trillion dollars, and a national debt to dwarf that, it is time we started asking very hard questions: what caused these wars, who is responsible, and who is paying for it? The simple answers: war mongering, the US government, and you.

Our foreign policy has a fever and the only prescription is non-interventionism. The wars in the Middle East, and consequently a free-falling economy, are the direct consequence of our commitment to ignore this debate. The wars with Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Korea, and a host of others, could have been avoided if we had minded our own damn business. Communist coups are not our problem. Islamic regimes are not our problem. Our problem is an inept government living in an Imperialistic fantasy world where we, the people, pay and die for wars they decide to wage. The Middle Eastern wars are estimated to cost you, the taxpayer, two trillion dollars. Our bases in over 130 countries will cost you even more in the coming years. In a time when our education system is failing, our markets are crashing, our infrastructures are crumbling, and our families are losing their homes, is it not more wise and prudent to direct our gaze homeward? We forget that the government works for us. We must take a stand. I, for one, will not pay for the musings of the imperial glory-hungry.

At this point, one may assert that we are bringing freedom and democracy to that region. Before the invasion of 2003, Iraq had never reported a suicide bombing. We are the cause of the unrest in the Middle East. Terrorist leaders cannot recruit on a religious platform alone. Potential devotees are persuaded by their common hatred of American foreign policy. Osama Bin Laden masterminded the 9/11 attacks because of American feet on Saudi soil. Previously Bin Laden had even offered to fight Saddam in the Gulf War. Nothing unifies like a common enemy.

Political ties will tempt us to argue at this stage. No matter what one’s convictions, we can all agree, hopefully, that peace is intrinsically better than war. American foreign policy began these wars without our, or Congress’ for that matter, approval and it is time we demanded an end to it. The de facto reason the Middle Eastern wars wage is American presence in the region. If we withdraw, the war is over. The war could be over in the morning if you said so. So, what do you say?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

An Open Letter to The President of the United States

Dear Mr. President,

I am taking the time to write you a letter in the sincere hope that the voice of the American people will be heard. Such a great chasm of distance, both metaphorical and literal, separates us. Sir, we cannot and will not continue down this trail of tears that will lead to ruin for millions of Americans. Families are hurled from their homes; parents are forced to choose between medicine and food; and our debt, both individually and communally, are increasing at staggering rates. All the while, CEO’s make tens of millions of dollars a year. Sir, my mother cannot walk, lost her job, and cannot even afford to maintain a trailer because of these bastards. Why? What kind of system are we propagating when justice is measured by the size of a bank account? Do we promote justice, welfare, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or a work farm for the rich to become richer? President Roosevelt, in his final State of the Union before his death, spoke of a second bill of rights which guaranteed every American, the backs of whom America’s greatness is built, maintained, and repaired, the right to a place to live, food to eat, a job to work, education, and healthcare. Why have we degraded to a mechanism in which our clockwork is rusty and in disrepair while the face appears shiny and new? Our government must protect us from the rich and powerful else we have no reason for government. The Constitution guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as a God-given right. Who are banks, Wall Street traders, and governmental officials to deny us? Mr. President, we will not be denied. James Farmer Jr., a well-known civil rights activist, quoting Saint Augustine pointed out that ‘“…an unjust law is no law at all," which means I have a right, even a duty, to resist -- with violence or civil disobedience. You should pray I choose the latter.”’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in Washington to promote civil rights. I am writing you for the same reason: to disobey. The hands of greedy men have taken our rights, as American citizens and human beings, from us. Sir, if we cannot remedy this illness then I will respectfully withdraw my American citizenship. Give me liberty or give me exile Mr. President but please do not give me any more bullshit. We, the people, of the United States of America, demand justice.

Please, re-consider President Roosevelt’s second bill of rights. Be the catalyst for the fire we need. Yes, you can.

Respectfully and humbly,
Larry Reginald Swetman

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Marijuana Legislation: Justice and Responsibility

“I think people need to be educated to the fact that marijuana is not a drug. Marijuana is an herb and a flower. God put it here. If He put it here and He wants it to grow, what gives the government the right to say that God is wrong." In a nation with 720,000 arrests due to an unjust prohibition, is it not time to re-evaluate cannabis' legality? This quote by Willie Nelson, long-time country music star and marijuana activist, asks the essential questions: Why is Marijuana illegal? Has cannabis prohibition helped or hurt society? What is the science and politics of cannabis? Knowledge is power and this article seeks to bridge the asymmetry of information with regard to marijuana's constitutionality. In the United States of America officials are elected to serve our interests. Is marijuana legalization is in our best interest? The US government has a shady history concerning marijuana law and it is time we, the people, stood up and were heard.

In 1972, Richard Nixon, in the middle of the Vietnam War, ordered a congressional study- the Shafer Report- on the health concerns of marijuana usage. Nixon commissioned this test to silence anti-war activists. Hippies smoked pot: hippies protested the war. If they could not smoke pot, the argument went, their movement would suffer a serious set back. When the report came back, Nixon was not pleased. The report showed no serious health concerns from marijuana usage, but it did offer a criticism. It asserted that the criminalization of marijuana was both unconstitutional and unsustainable. However, Nixon had a war to win so he sowed the roots for another war: a "war on drugs."

Before we can begin to examine the war on drugs itself, we would do well to examine the history of marijuana legality in the United States. Between the years of 1600 and 1890's hemp growth was encouraged in the new world. In 1619, the Virginia Assembly even passed a law requiring all Americans to grow hemp. Its quick reproduction cycle, environmental benefits, and tactile use was indispensable. Hemp was used in the production of rope, paper, and medicines. In some states it was even used as legal tender.

By the early 20th century, Mexican immigrants streamed into the US after the Mexican Revolution of 1910: bringing with them the recreational use of marijuana. Just as alcohol became taboo due to the steady flux of German immigrants in the '20's, so too marijuana became associated with ill-wanted Mexican labor. Resentment and a flood of anti-marijuana propaganda grew with the Great Depression. This ignorant animosity led to tighter marijuana restrictions including the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. However, war and science would soon change many tunes.

During the 1940's the Second World War was ravaging national resources. In order to provide much needed parachutes and other supplies, the government offered draft deferments for the production of hemp. By 1943, American farmers recorded using 375,000 acres in the production of hemp. However, by the middle of the 1950's the government again flaked hemp production. Between 1951-1956 the minimum fine for marijuana possession was a 2-10 prison sentence and a fine of up to $20,000.

Kennedy and Johnson again shifted the political climate of marijuana in the '60s. They too ordered a report on the dangers of marijuana and again the tests came up negative. The report refuted the conservative claim that ingestion of the plant induced violence and crime. Finally, responsible leadership was steering public opinion from fear tactics to the truth. As a result, policy began to shift toward understanding and regulation. However, the Vietnam War was right around the corner.

Marijuana, in the '60s, was a countercultural statement. Marijuana smokers were the chief dissidents, and loudest voices, of the anti-war movement. The aforementioned Shafer Report of 1972, commissioned by the white house, showed conclusive evidence of marijuana's relative safety and negative evidence for a so-called "gateway effect." Nixon rejected the commission's advice, but the damage was done. Already, unjust federal law was being questioned by state congresses. By the middle of the 1970's eleven states had legalized the medical use of marijuana.

Unfortunately, at the Federal level, the proverbial stone kept on rolling. As a result of Nixon's stubbornness and ignorance, Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs. He signed into law the "Anti-Drug Abuse Act" which began a $44.1 billion dollar enterprise between 1988 and 2006. In a televised speech in 1989, George H.W. Bush declared, without a vote from congress, his war on drugs without clarifying conditions, goals, or cause. As a result of fear tactics, miseducation, and ignorance, marijuana was pigeonholed in with hard narcotics. But, who gains from the prohibition?

The most rapidly expanding market in the US today is private prisons. Some may see this as a good thing: less criminals: less crime. But who is occupying these prisons? By 2008, over 750,000 arrests had been made for possession of marijuana: 1/3 less than the amount of total violent crimes (594,511). Rape, murder, armed robbery, and hate crimes all combined do not equal the amount of arrests for marijuana possession. The US government has flip-flopped on this issue far too often. It is time to responsibly and scientifically evaluate the claims of marijuana advocates.

A country in recession and in debt, we have spent 28 trillion dollars on the so-called "war on drugs." To what effect? While our national debt piles up and real criminals are roaming the streets, politicians and law enforcement waste precious resources on an unjust and unwinnable campaign. Cannabis is one of the most useful plants on Earth but corporate lobbying and political pride have kept the truth at bay. It is time that we educated ourselves and stopped leaning on the trust of a brainwashed generation. Hemp can be used for the production of rope, fuel, food, milk, paper, and a host of other benefits. Additionally, it grows at an astounding rate! Trees can take years to grow to maturity. Cannabis reproduces in a percentage of that time which makes turning crops much more efficient and productive. Who cares if someone smokes a joint in the privacy of his or her own home? Even economists agree that marijuana law reform is the wisest path.

Marijuana has been misunderstood for far too long. Prohibition started as a political bargaining chip and fear still feeds it. If society at large can wink a playful eye at marijuana use then it is time the truth was heard. We must combat ignorance with education and civil disobedience. James Farmer Jr. once said, "An unjust law is no law at all. Therefore, [we] have a right, a duty, to resist with violence or civil disobedience." Marijuana prohibition is an unjust law. Who is the government to make nature illegal? Did God make a mistake on the eighth day and leave some pot behind? No, cannabis is natural and should not be feared for the sake of a political agenda. It is time for cannabis to be legalized and only we can make a difference.