Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Are to Be Dead Birds, But Not Today

Look both ways before crossing the street Space Travelers.  This evening, while driving home, a squirrel darted into the road.  The car about 20 ft in front of me in the lane to my left prevented the squirrel from making it all the way across.  I made for a hasty retreat, but  Johnny Freedom Karr was headed right for it.  I could not stop, nor did I have the maneuvering room to turn.  I saw the squirrel flatten down just before its small frame disappeared behind the horizon of JFK's hood.  It was hard to tell if the squirrel would be clear of my wheels.  After passing over, I looked in my rear view mirror.  I saw nothing.  It vanished.  I was relieved.  Twice before, I've struck an animal...

...Both were birds.  

One instance stands out in my mind.  I was on my way into work one evening, and two birds swooped down.  One went too low and I struck it.  I heard the soft sound.  I'd swear I could feel it in my hands through the steering wheel.  I know that's very unlikely, but when it happened, I felt like it  struck my heart.  I was pierced.  

As I drove, I looked back in the mirror.  I saw it laying in the road.  One wing up in the air.  It was beating its raised wing with a terribly frantic rhythm.  That, or it was already dead, and it was the wind that simply moved the bird's lifeless wing.  As I slowed to the stoplight, I continued to look back in the mirror.  The second bird landed next to dead or dying bird.  It hopped around with its head down looking at the wounded bird.  I'm not one to anthropomorphize animal behavior*, but I couldn't help but try and put myself in the bird's head.  Did it know what had happened to the other bird?  Did it feel sad?  Did it hate me for killing the other bird?  I pondered things like if they were mates, and what our chance cosmic encounter could mean.  Did they have a nest?  Eggs?  How long would the bird stay there by the dead bird before it flew off?  Would it return to that spot later, or would it leave and never think of the spot or occasion again?

The light turned green.  I could not stay there.  I drove on, and as I left, I saw the bird still there bouncing around looking at the ground.  The scene faded from view, but not from mind. Thoughts of this bird would be in my head all day while I worked.  

This was life.  This was nature--It was not cruel, but indifferent.  In my life, I'll have to be the dead bird only once, but all have to be the surviving bird numerous times over.  I think the terror is that I realize I'm more prepared to die than to deal with death.  To mourn is agony.  It is not beautiful.  So while I'm not the bouncing bird, I'll still have to fly away; I'll still have to still go when the light turns green.  When death takes my friends and family, I'll have to keep moving.  I can't stay arrested on the side of the road trying to understand it, there may be no answer.  I can't just stay angry and blame something.  I can't simply regret this... regret that.  I'll be a dead bird one day, but until then, I can't use my life just staring at the earth.

*Space Traveler Fact:  Anthropomorphizing is reserved for electronics and vehicles.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chapter 33; Verse 1: The Autobahn Less Traveled

Guten Abend mine Space Travelers.  Ya!  We are having fun now! He he.

It's been a while since I've strapped myself into plane and ventured off.  I was investigating a trip to Europe for a while.  I needed to get out and meet people; have a cultural experience.  I needed to be put in a new context.  I find that when I travel, I see myself in the third person (sort of).  I think now is a good time for that.  I'm coming out of a huge period of change and some reflection on who I'm becoming would be good.

Hans Liberty Auto
The plan is to land in Berlin on August 31st, and fly out on September 13th.  I have a rental car reserved, and everything else (like lodging or figuring out how to order vegan food in other countries...) I'll improvise.  Not much of a plan, but I'm confident in my ability to make this work.  In many ways this trip has many similar elements to my 2007 road trip that started this blog.  I'm traveling alone, which in many ways seems like I'm missing out on the whole "sharing the experience."  I do like to have travel companions, but there is something incredibly satisfying about the independence and autonomy of single travel.  In 2007, I had not planned to hang a sharp turn and go off the planned route, but had I not, I would have missed Devil's Tower and (this detail stands out to me) the prairie dogs in the surrounding plain.  

So I have a general path sketched out, but nothing in concrete.  My goal is to hit Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt, and anything that catches my attention in transit between.

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Toilets: Stand Up, Seat Down

Let's do it wrong Space Travelers!  When was the last time you challenged why you do something?  What defines what is the correct way?  Try doing something wrong, and often enough, you'll find out.

There is the perennial joke about men and how we leave the toilet seat up.  Silly manfolk bipedal urinators, why pee standing?  Nobody can function at such an altitude!

I want this.
I'd never really had to deal with the seemingly inevitable debate.  That was until about four-ish years ago.  I was scolded for leaving the seat up.  I was confused.  It seemed harsh to meet such a sudden reprimand for a single offense.  I went into the bathroom and the seat was down.  I assumed she had lowered it.  A few days later, the topic came up again, and again I was confused.  I went into the bathroom and the seat was down.  In protest, I pointed out that the seat was down.  It was when she came in that the issue became clear to me.  She marched in, then lowered the lid.  I had not been leaving the seat up, but rather the lid.  The break down in communication came from the difference in what we were calling the seat.  Quickly this became one of those cases where you simply let the girlfriend win the argument because life is really too short to be fighting over toilet anatomy, and it's a suicide mission to correct a girlfriend on matters of definition or terminology.

We have in modern western society created a cultural practice of putting the seat down, and apparently this includes the lid (in eastern societies, they use a different toilet or the toilet just makes all the choices for you while playing music.  See also: Weird Japanese things).  It seems that to have an exposed and open toilet bowl is an offense worth a potty harangue from the lady-mate.  Or so it seems.  However, what in these last four years I haven't been able to wrap my head around is why?  Who crafted this rule?  Why do toilets have lids?  If lids are a part of being polite, why don't public restrooms have lids on their toilets?  It seems odd that our public choice should be less rude than what we choose to do in private residencies.  Seat and lid down could be the righteous thing to do, but I want to understand why.  The unexamined life is hardly worth living, and that includes etiquette in the water closet.

As it turns out, some answers are available.  The first matter to address is the public restroom.  As it turns out, it's a law.  The Uniform Plumbing Code Section 409.2.2 requires the use of an "open seat," but allows an exception for private residences.  The reasoning offered for the use of the open seat varies (splash back, genital contact, ease of cleaning, etc), but all logic offered resolves to some sort of sanitary measure as the common denominator.  In the interest of public health, the lid is omitted entirely.  Civilization seems to have a low priority on the lid, so why and how did this become an element of good manors in our homes?  

"No!  I will not calm down!  The lid is symbolic of this entire relationship!"
A male-female cohabitation is the battleground in which this war is commonly waged (drunk in a bar was a close second).  The common assertion from our finer halves is that they are "tired of putting the seat down for us."  Pulling someone else's weight can be a real drag so I am sympathetic.  Not to nitpick, but aren't they putting the seat down for themselves?  The reverse certainly could be said as well, and we'd think not twice about a man having to lift the seat for himself.  He's not doing it because she forgot anything, he's simply putting the toilet in the desired configuration.  If he leaves either the lid or seat up and the next desired configuration is that it be resting in a horizontal orientation, the action is no more dramatic than lifting the seat before toilet use.  In fact, when transitioning the seat out of the upright position, gravity is on your side.  Voila!  Now, all of the above can be used to argue either way for whose responsibility it is to put the toilet seat where, but at the heart of this intellectual quest is the matter of determining what the default position is.

In finding the default, let us summon science again.  In the highest tradition of Newtonian physics, we note that a seat in the upright position is a dynamically stable system with a greater potential energy than the statically stable system of the seat being down.  In the interest of using energy efficiently, it seems that lifting the seat is a waste.  However, a lid in the down position requires the expenditure of energy for all users because it obstructs waste from entering the bowl.  If the lid serves a function, then this use of energy may be a worth while investment.  We should investigate possible functions.

Get lost in the beauty
The purpose of a lid is in itself a debate.  At its simplest, it is purely ornate.  I've examined images of both toilets with and without lids.  I've decided there is merit to this argument.  The lid increases the surface area of the toilet as a unit and provides a large flat area which is ideal for decoration.  Anyone who has researched the housing market knows that kitchens and bathrooms are what sell homes.  So who wouldn't want to protect their investment?  Transforming the one place where you produce the worst sounds and smells into a work of art is a creative pursuit, and I support that kind of thing.

Beyond aesthetics, there is a functional element to the lid itself.  For those who find themselves tired after a long a stressful day at work, a toilet with its lid down provides a sturdy bench.  In terms of posture, a firm lid promotes proper spinal alignment, and by most designs, the height is such that the hamstring and shin will form a comfortable angle with each other and with respect to the floor.  If the toilet has a rear tank, the individual may find its cold porcelain therapeutic to sore muscles and enjoy the lower lumbar support.  To have good posture is to live well.

Earth day is everyday
Another utilitarian theory about the lid is that it acts as a two-way defensive barrier.  This school of thought takes into account two main (but numerous secondary) scenarios.  The first is to keep whatever is in the toilet from escaping out.  Currently, this has only proven effective against large vermin such as rats that swim up the pipes.  Attempts have been made to stop odors and insects from escaping, however, in 2010, our toilet technology simply does provide a viable solution for these common foes.  The second form of defense is the idea that the lid will keep things from getting inside the toilet.  It is unknown at this time, but conservative figures suggest that as many as 50 bazillion pristine toilet bowls have been contaminated when a user accidentally or intentionally dropped their $200.00 cell phone in.  Most mobile phones and PDAs operate on lithium ion batteries and the run-off toxins from such a spill would render the toilet water unsafe to drink.  I don't need to belabor the point, the lid can provide both security and an eco-safeguard to the local watershed.

A prototype hybrid unit
Given the complications that arise from toilets with actionable seats and lids, I began to wonder if it would be simpler if we simply fixed the seat to the bowl, and removed the lid all together.  Seats and lids are movable parts and are prone to damage.  The average American household spends over $26,000.00 on toilet maintenance in a given year.  This cost could be cut by up to 50%, and free up monetary resources for struggling families if fixed-seat toilets were installed.  This removes an unnecessary choice when using the bathroom, and helps save time (no doubt, equally important as money).  Don't think we can build it?  Wrong dummy!  This is the U.S. of A! We already have them, and they are being implemented in US prisons across the nation where in 2008 2,304,115 happy inmates use them daily without up-or-down dilemma.  Additionally, a seat that can't be removed, can't be used as a weapon in a cell-block uprising.  Now that's something we can all believe in:  A safer America.

I encourage all people to explore why we do what we do.  I used to be a mindless drone putting the toilet seat and lid down because I was told to do so.  Now when I place them down, I'm doing it for my own reasons.  It shows I care.  It's a message to my loved ones.  A message that I take pride in the appearance of my home.  It says that I care for my body.  It's a warning to rodent sewer intruders that "United We Stand." A lid down is the proud badge of the eco-minded individual.  Lastly, it says to all those that follow me into the bathroom that I trust in their ability to make the right choice, and that without the freedom to choose, it's no different than being in prison.  Don't just take my word for it though.  I encourage everyone to set out on the noble quest to find answers to this and other very emotional and personal questions about the human condition.  They may say "Whatever dude.  You thought waaaaaay too much about this."  Cognito ergo sum toileto seato summissus.  I think, therefore I lower the toilet seat.

"Go away!  I'm pooping!"
(428–427 BCE)

As a last note Space Travelers, in my research, I discovered many new and exciting ways to use a toilet.  If you attempt these at home, it should be under proper supervision, and always after doing warm up stretches.

The Side-Saddle:  This stance elongates the frame and is quite sliming.  Showcase your classic elegance with this old time favorite. Good for group settings.

The Sea-Doo:  This sporty stance is for advanced users only.  This is of course a slight modification on the "Stallion" which required stir-ups.  This method provides all the enjoyment of the Stallion without the expensive equipment.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

vLog Unspecial 07: Impersonations

Here is the companion video Space Travelers.

Don't forget to rate the video and follow me on Facebook.  I plan to keep drawing more faces as a side project.  I will upload all the face pictures into a picture folder on the facebook account where you can post comments on the pictures themselves and what type of character you think they'd be.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Single Thought #9

Some things hurt.  Some things leave a mark.  However, given the choice to never feel anything again, I'll take the mark.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Book Versus The Movie

Salutations Space Travelers.  I just got done doing some midnight cleaning of my apartment while trying not to wake the roommates.  When they wake up and come out of their rooms, it will be like Christmas morning, if their letters to Santa requested that the damn kitchen be cleaned (They've been nice, I'm the naughty one).  As I was cleaning, and organizing, I looked at the bookshelves.  I realized that I have more movies than books.  There is a debate that rages on between the book and the movie.  Had movies won my brain's real estate?

I've never considered myself to be very literary.  I was not the child with my nose in a book.  I was too impatient.  I couldn't be bothered to devote multiple days to stories that took only 80 minutes to tell on TV or in a theater.  As my peers began to read more as an extra-curricular activity, I witnessed a trend.  The more films I watched with them, the more I'd start to hear "the book was better."  At first, I was arrested in a sort of disbelief.  I often had enjoyed the film, and I didn't see anything wrong with it.  Seeing my fellow audience seem so disappointed was mildly alarming.  As I heard this phrase more and more, I started to worry that there was a whole world out there I was missing out on; a book world, where the story was always better.  

In 1999, A very special film came out.  The movie was Fight Club, and it's dark visuals coupled with its gritty attitude was intoxicating.  I watched it over and over.  A few of my friends and I even got in fist fights in our garages.  We were punch drunk, literally (I told you it was intoxicating).  It was a lot of reality mimicking fiction.  But hey, the story is about exploring the male condition, so perhaps this was a form or exploring the ideas in it.  We didn't fight for too long, and never as fiercely as in the film.  We tempered our enthusiasm, and cooled our teenage jets pretty fast when we discovered something important:  We all fucking hated getting  punched in the face.  It was awful.

Fiction and storytelling can have a very powerful effect on those who digest it.  It can become as real as the person allows.  Since I was done getting decked in the jaw, I decided to read the book.  When I came across a copy, it was a soft back with the movie art on the front.  It was obviously a reprint made exactly for people like myself who had seen the movie, and now wanted to read the book.  A funny thing happened right before I began to read Fight Club.  I stumbled upon an interview with Chuck Palahniuk where he said that he like the movie better than his book.  I was puzzled.  This wasn't right.  The book was supposed to be better!  The author isn't supposed to say that kind of thing!  habpasadfiuonfcwdnwepowcna'xa!!!1one

Now, having read all but one of Palanuik's books, I look back and think that this isn't shocking at all.  Not for Palahniuk. He likes very much to play the devil's advocate and his humor is often quite contrarian.  Well played Chuck.

I read the book.  It was good, but it was good in many ways because in my mind this was the cast of Brat Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. Oh, and Meatloaf.  Him too.  To me, it felt less like a book, and more like a projection of the movie.  The same thing happened when I read the Harry Potter books.  I began after the first movie, and finished prior to the conclusion of the movies.  J.K. Rowling does such a wonderful job of describing Harry, but the truth is that no matter what she wrote, I will always think of Daniel Radcliffe.

Potter ala livre ou toile?

So how do I compare these works of literary art to their cinematic cousins?  In effect, I've really just compared two movies:  Their movie, and the one in my head; my movie.  I can't be considered objective on a matter where my imagination is on one side of the scale.

There are some books that I read prior to them becoming a movie.  What?  You didn't so?  I'm hurt (E tu Space Travelers).  Another Palahniuk book, and notably my favorite, Choke, was made into a film in 2008.  It stars the very very very (I just completed a "very" combo!) talented Sam Rockwell.  However...  I didn't really love the film.  It was okay.  The book was better...  There, I said it.  But was it?  Or was it simply that I was struggling with someone else's manifestation of the characters?  Was it just one mental director (me) being overly critical and envious of the actual director?  For instance, I thought that instead of Kelly MacDonald, the obvious choice was Monica Bellucci for the role of Paige.  Geeze.  Get a Clue, right?  Seemingly, the Director Clark Gregg never read the book, otherwise he would have come to this inevitable conclusion as easily as I did.

Maybe it's about the order of operations.

Right now I'm really into the Scott Pilgram comics by Brian Lee O'Malley.  Volume Six, the final volume, comes out today.  The film adaptation of the omnibus is due in Theaters in August starring mumble champ Michael Cera as  lead man loser-hero Scott Pilgram.  Get excited.  It looks visually exciting, and (the trailers at least 1 2 3) captures the video-game-rock-n-roll-mid-twenties feel of the graphic novels.  Last time I was at my local comic store, the store cleric explained, with the gusto and charisma of the basset hound, that he was holding off reading Scott Pilgram until after the movie.  Did my gregarious friend have a point?  What if I've poisoned the well!  What if I've ruined the cinematic experience!  How can I enter the theater at all?  I'll cross into that scared dark cave with the knowledge of the six volumes in my head, knowing that to fit the story into a two hour film, lots will have to be cut out.  Cut out with a chainsaw, not a scalpel, at that.

I know that a graphic novel is not the same as a book (It has pictures.  Weeeeee!).  However, I think the reasons that one might enjoy the film less than its original form is the same/similar for both.  Certainly the die hard Marvel and DC fans well tell you (No seriously, they don't shut up once you get them started) about how the recent comic book movies could have been better (Perhaps there is an exception for Christopher Nolan's Batman movies.  They didn't try to be canon as much as feel correct, but hey, why so serious?).  We like books and graphic novels.  Opinion-fact!  They have lots of details to feed our imagination so our mind's Director can compose a masterpiece.

I don't believe I'll ever be able to compare the book and the movie.  I won't be able to assign a value to some of a film's elements so that it is readily comparable to the book.  Think of the many beautiful cinematic scores composed for films that became characters themselves.  I for one, cannot think about Jurassic Park without thinking of that beautiful symphony, or how could I ever relive the climatic ending of Last of the Mohicans without hearing the dramatic and emotional Irish song racing though my head (Wait?  Irish?  Daniel Day Lewis was in the film...).  There are some things that defy value and discourage cross evaluation.  

Maybe we should not seek to compare the book and the movie; the novel verse the film; the PDF against the MPEG.  Let them be their own experience each.  If they do cross paths, let it be a collaboration in our imaginations, not a competition for our favor.  Some stories may not be able to arouse us in both forms.  Some stories will remain on the bookshelf, and others will only light the silver screen.

Someday we could have a way to have project holographic images directly into our heads.  We'd literally be in the story.  If that day comes, I'll probably (like Palahniuk) declare that the virtual story is better than the movie, and perhaps even the book.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

vLog Unspecial 06: Private Parts

I don't know how this slipped through the cracks Space Travelers. I made this vLog Unspecial some time ago, and it seems I never posted it up!

Enjoy! I will it so!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lt. Dan is in the House

Long time no post Space Travelers.  I was a little blogged out for a bit after working on two blogs at once rather actively.  The Metrics of Me adventure in fitness and health is complete.  I don't have any current quest, so I won't be posting there.  I plan to leave the blog up because you never know if someday I might return there to document some other exciting life change.

I've created a facebook page for the blog so people can follow it and get updates more easily when I post new entries.  Additionally, I think this will be a good way to get more feedback and even take requests on future content.  These days, I've been in a rather editorial mood with the blog.  I've have my writing style critiqued as being rather didactic and another person referring to some of my arguments as being totalitarian and lacking respect for pluralism.  I don't fully know how to process this feedback.  On the blog, I've been wanting to talk more about ideas, and less about what is going on in my own life.  I can't say I credit anything specifically for this trend, only that I've viewed this blog less as a diary and more as a creative outlet for my thoughts, and I don't know how creative I can be with the daily minutia of my life.  Some bloggers are great at that, and I love reading their stuff.  I wish I could make my logical Tuesday rich with metaphors and witty insight.  I don't think my lifestyle currently fits that kind of blog, although I do like doing the "Chapter/Verse" posts when I do travel.  This blog is my sandbox, it's often been experimental, but it's always been very intimate.  For the last three years, I'd like to say thanks to all the Space Travelers reading.

... normally I'd try to offer some sort of introduction to the topic, but I'll just jump in...

I've been thinking a lot about the media relationship with Atheism.  A few years ago, Space Traveler Leek pointed out one of his greatest frustrations in film:  Lt. Dan.  LD represents a mythological atheist:  The atheist who believes in a god, but is mad/angry/upset with it.  Needless to say, this is not an atheist.  The atheist apostate meme is something that I believe creates a great deal of stress in many atheist's lives.  

That frustration can lead to actual anger as my girlfriend pointed out to me recently when she said:  "You sound angry."  My anger wasn't a product of my atheism.  It was a resentment that I did not feel I was capable of expressing anger (in the same way and degree as a religious person), without it being some sort of statement about my beliefs.  I'm human, and I experience the full range of emotions, and that includes anger.  I'm not defined by anger, it should not mean that media generalizations of atheists are justified because I take objection to being put into a box.  The more my anger is emphasized, the more my joy, love, and patience is deemphasized, and I feel less appreciated as a human being.

Two very lead fictional atheist characters right now are House and Bones.  While popular, they tend to be depicted as socialy flawed and unhappy individuals. To complete their task/agenda (whatever the plot is) they seem to require the compassion of other more well adjusted spiritual people.

I had someone tell me in contrast that "Yes, he's weak. But he's also right. Logically, clearly and obviously right about everything all the time. He points out delusions and comforting self-deceptions in others. I think [House] does atheism more good than harm, at least more so than those who have gone before."  They went on to say "Sometimes see Hugh Laurie himself insisting on a more real representation of an atheist."

It could really go both ways couldn't it?

His weakness and bitterness are unrelated to his ability as a doctor. Certainly he could be as sober and disillusioning to self-deceptions without being bitter and mean. One of the ways to make a story interesting is to give your protagonist idiosyncrasies.  The TV detective Monk was OCD.  This played into the role he had as a detective plus it provided for humorous scenes about how it affected otherwise normal social situations. House has no tact, which is makes his bed-side manor humorous and shocking.

House is perhaps a good atheist character in many ways. He doesn't choose the easy road. He chooses one with many hardships, and much pain as a result. That path however means that he helps many people, and it's no less meaningful because he chooses to do it (as opposed to doing it because he has faith that it is his purpose).

Honestly, House is fine.  His character flaws are interesting ones, and his story is compelling. My worry is that these negative things are projected to be a part of his identity as an atheist. After all, it seems like his mental anguish would be lessened if he did believe in god.  It would make all the nice people he has to see die feel like less a tragedy if he could delude himself with thoughts of an afterlife.

While House is angry at the world, and Lt Dan is angry at a god, I can't help but feel like the subtext on both is the same:  All atheists are incomplete and hurt people who will ultimately be better and happier once they accept god.  In the epilogue bits of Forrest Gump, we see Lt. Dan, clean shaved, in love, calm, polite, emotionally healed, and god loving.  In the movie Signs, Mel Gibson's character, a former priest, rediscovers god, and is seemingly cured of his anger.  I don't know how house will end, but he's already had scenes that were either supernatural or drug induced transcendent moments that suggest we are walking a familiar path.  

House's pain makes him human.  We connect with him.  I'd like to see and ending with House emotionally healed too, I just don't want his Atheism treated like it's a wound.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Son of a Gun

Bang Bang Space Travelers. Keep honking, I'm reloading the rhetorical six-gun. Lock stock and and two smoking rhetorical barrels. Let's chit chat rata tat tat about guns.

I own two guns. I never asked for either. They were gifts. One was a rifle gifted to me by my grandfather. It has a small caliber, but a decent scope. The other is a 38 Chief special, a small 5-shot snub-nosed revolver. You might recall this gun from my Home on the Range vLog. I don't desire the liability of owning either gun so I've asked a family friend to store them in his gun safe. I'm not afraid of guns, I just don't want the responsibility.

I don't object to gun ownership. I don't think that if you own guns you're some nut-job either. That said, there are plenty of gun-nuts, and they aren't relegated to some obscure corner of society; they're everywhere. It's not simply enough to be able to own a firearm, but rather they believe that they should be able to own any number of guns and of any type.

There are two major arguments I hear in regards to the ownership of advanced weaponry. The first is self defense, the second is that it is a form of control to keep the government in check. I'd like to address both of these. I think however now is a good time to talk about some terms.

An assault rifle is defined by it's ability to have selective rate of fire, intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine.

An assault weapon is defined by having both a detachable magazine and a pistol grip, sometimes in conjunction with other features such as a folding stock or a flash suppressor.

There is often some overlap in these terms, but in general these terms refer to legal language as outlined by the laws of the United States. Specifically, the term assault weapon draws a great deal of controversy from gun advocates. They say that any weapon is an assault weapon if used to assault someone. Cute, but hardly the point. The Assault Weapon Ban written in 1994 was allowed to expire under President George W Bush. There has been a great deal of debate on what the effect of that has been. Other than debate, people have enjoyed frothing at the mouth.

The argument of self defense is certainly a justifiable one. I have no objection to a person purchasing and owning a gun for self protection. As an engineer however, I have something to say about what guns are designed to protect and what guns are designed specifically for purposes of attack. Engineering is more than the fabrication of a item. It is the specific tailoring of an item to a specific objective with defined parameters.

E.g. - In formula car racing, the aerodynamic package will be changed each race and tailored for specific tracks. Tracks with long straight lengths will lead a design group to minimize drag, while a track with many tight curves would lead a team to optimize down-force. Either way, asking what type of car is the best is a questoin only answered given a specific context.

Some firearms are certainly well engineered for self-protection. Their engineers clearly understand that the ability to operate a weapon properly and accurately is balanced with the ability to transport or store the weapon. Similarly, engineering a weapon for the purposes of attacking will have different concerns and therefore will drive different design elements. To pretend all firearms are equal or even designed to accomplish the same goals is foolish. I seriously doubt that the creators of the AK-47 or the M-16 market their weapon as anything but the ultimate in attack.

Certainly, a sword is nothing but a large knife, but to pretend it was designed to chop vegetables in your kitchen would be to ignore the sword's proper context. This is the problem. Some groups are arguing that they have the right to chop their vegetables however they like, and when challenged on that front they are hiding behind some strawman argument that they have a right to own knives!

Here's the formula: Take an extreme position. When confronted, hide behind a reasonable position. Then argue there is no difference between your position and the reasonable one. By doing this, the reasonable position is used as some sort of umbrella argument for all positions. Argumentum ad reductio. This is frustrating.

Many argue that assault weapons are simply classifications which are only cosmetic. I'm hard pressed to understand how a flash suppressor is a cosmetic change on a weapon. Flash suppressors have a very specific function, and it is not a defensive feature. It is a feature which tactically aides in concealing your position. If your position is concealed, who are you defending yourself from? What defense fantasy are you in where this is self defense?

The second major argument I hear is that the reason the constitution grants gun ownership is because citizen's reserve the right to defend themselves... from the government itself. This idea is that basically that the central or state government could become out of control and it would be the public's job to take control. No, I'm serious. I hear this one very frequently.

While it is only speculation whether or not we've ever needed such a protection from our own government, it's obvious when inspecting our history that if we ever did need it to fight a police state (Japanese internment camps, Hollywood blacklists, National guard opening fire on students...), we didn't use it. In spite of this, we do NOT have to speculate on the effect gun ownership has had on the household. Perhaps, the recent attempt by the Michigan Christian Hutaree Militia to kill police officers and start an uprising is what the founders meant. I hear plenty of dommsdaying about how Obama is a socialist, Marxist, communist, secret muslim, and eater of babies (Bobs ya uncle!). I hear plenty about the inevitable sky-is-falling end of our republic. So here is my question: Why aren't out proud gun owners storming the capital? Seems like they are the same people complaining about Obama and the creeping red menace. Isn't this exactly what the argument calls for? Aren't we supposed to be putting our government in check? I'm calling the bluff. The Hutarees are the embodiment of this belief, and we can see that this kind of illogic leads only to madness. I say for all the tough guy posturing of the gun lobby, they seem perfectly fine with this argument... as long as it's somebody else.

Plenty of ammo left here, and I know there are additional arguments. I see them however as being closely enough related to the two I choose that I did not feel they demanded direct addressing.

I believe that the 2nd amendment does grant the right to personal gun ownership. I however am not as dumb to think that it grants citizens a carte blanche access to any weaponry they desire. The citizens, state and central government have a real compelling interest in limiting access to this kind of weaponry. Finding the balance of individual and civil interests will not resolve to people owning more and more and more guns.

Americans should additionally know about how our gun laws and access affects the world outside of our borders. Recently in a speech to congress, the Mexican president requested of the USA to better regulate our access to guns. He explained to congress that when the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, the cartels have become more armed, and they are using American purchased weapons. 80% of the weapons seized from the drug cartels are purchased in the USA. With the body count rising in Mexico, we are accessory to this violence. I defy anyone to explain to me how their desire to own an assault weapon is worth this. Gun apologists that say the cartels would get their weapons elsewhere, sure. However, they choose to get them from us, and it's because it's easier and cheaper. We're their favorite. We arm them, and we buy their drugs.

Dear Space Travelers, we live in a crazy and violent world. I only hope that people realize that no solution is to be found in embracing either madness or violence. I'll close with a story.

Yesterday I went to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian with my mother. She has been an anthropologist her entire life. She knows a great deal about the native peoples, and as such was able to add quite an enlightening effect on the museum's displays. She told me the origin of the phrase "bury the hatchet." It involves the Iroquois Nation's foundation. There were six tribes in total that came together, but they did not wish to come together peacefully and there was much blood shed. Finally, they met in peace and formed their confederacy. Their confederacy helped protect them from the ever expanding colonial presence in North America (they were not forced West). It began with them meeting in peace. In that meeting, a great pit was dug. Into that pit, the weapons of the six tribes were placed. They covered the pit in soil and planted a tree on top. To this day, the symbol of the Iroquois Nation is that tree.

If you think you are in threat of your government abusing you, think about burying the hatchet. They do not regret their choice. If you think you prize your gun, imagine prizing a weapon you built with your own hands. They still put it into the earth.

We cannot let gun ownership be the practice of Mutually Assured Destruction on the individual level. Such is suicide.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chapter 32, Verse 1: The Ruins

A happy photo treat today Space Travelers! Om nom nom on these cool pics while I muse...

These are some select pictures from my trip to the Capitol Ruins in DC. Yes, the Capitol still stands, but if you (read: me) had not fallen asleep in history class so often you'd know that the Capitol was burnt down in the War of 1812. The rubble from the Capitol was moved to a hill in what is now Rock Creek Park. Deep in the park on an unassuming trail, you'll discover an odd site. Ornate pieces of limestone and marble covered in soft green moss and overgrown by plants.

It seemed like the perfect place for a photo date Space Travelers. It's this kind of thing which makes you fall in love with this city.

I've been going through a great deal of change lately. I feel like I'm in a very exciting and profound stage of
metamorphosis. It was nice to visit somewhere old and in ruin, and yet so beautiful. What ruins will remain of who I was?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Queer Beer"

A bit of a rant today Space Travelers. This has been bothering me as long as I've been aware of it (which is now about a decade): The bear trap.

When I was becoming curious about alcohol in my teenage years, and began experimenting I quickly discovered that some alcoholic drinks were enjoyable, and others tasted like piss. What I also picked up on (like the observant youth I was) is that men and women had different drinking expectations, and whoever the authority on this was remained hidden in the shadows.

Drinking was an experimental endeavor in high school. I understood drunkeness only to the capacity that you'd seen others act
abnormally. Even in the case where I might observe an individual sick or hung over, I had no ability to empathize. Wanting to feel what it was like to drink and be inebriated was far more alien than the more readily understandable media message about drinking: Holding a beer made you look cool, tough, and likable. As a awkward young man who was convinced he was alone in awkwardness, beer seemed like it made sense as a part of the formation of who I'd like to be.

One problem, I couldn't stand it. Beer sucked. Every time. I began looking for a new drink which could offer the exploration outside of sobriety and simultaneously offer me the social reward that I was pretending not to want. Casually. What I found instead was that the rejection of beer seemed to be in part a rejection of manhood. It was as if beer itself was a part of the
blueprint of the modern man. I didn't understand this right of passage.

The next step was trying to find a beer I liked, because the types of beer that I had access to at high school parties (the type of beer that is sold in
30 packs) was scoring pitifully with me (and still does). Once outside of the more commercial hemisphere of the beer landscape, I found it much more difficult to navigate what I was supposed to try and how to even start determining what I liked. In college, I did find a few beers I liked (I remain rather loyal to Delirium Tremens). Despite finding some tolerable candidates, and an exclusive list of beers I moved into the enjoyable column, I started to wonder if I had simply traded one beer trap for another? Had I taken the elitist bait?

Admittedly, the dilemma was significantly smaller at this point. I had made excellent friends with
wine, and had something of a friends with benefits relationship with a gin and tonic made with Hendricks Gin (two limes for me cause I'm fucking special). Still, I wanted to figure out where beer and I stood and if we were more than just frenemies with a common social circle. I began to wonder if there were other men like me who felt like me, that they were staying in this relationship because they didn't know how to get out. Things weren't terrible, but where was the spark?

To recap where I'm at now, let's watch some commercials.

When I was young, I understood that drinking was as much social as it was utilitarian.

As I experimented, I learned that men drink beer, and that it was cool. Damn cool.

Then I learned that not drinking beer, made you less a man. If you wanted to sip on a Zima (do they even make this stuff anymore?) or a Smirnof Ice, you're being made a cuckold by a beverage while you sip your "
queer beer." I believe "bitch beer" as was the popular phrase in the jock strap community (saints, all). It makes me wonder sometimes. How many gallons of the beer consumed in a given day is done in the name of not being a "pussy?" Hell, even drinking the wrong beer is a white flag these days.

I'm a little wiser now. Don't get me wrong here, I still struggle with beer-gender. Typically, it's more about when I'm not drinking beer. There's some sort of artifact thought in the back of my head "should I be drinking a beer instead?" The wiser part of me is the part that reminds me that what I'm experiencing is very
powerful and effective marketing. Rationally, we all know that beer has fuck nothing to do with a person's sexuality, yet it's so simple to get caught up in the meme of beer glory and heaven, owned and operated by the St Pauli's girl.

When I think about beer-media right now, I try to make it into something positive/constructive. As a feature on the gender landscape, I think my struggle with male self image as it relates with beer must in someway be a exercise in empathy for me. The intense media pressure to behave withing certain social norms and obtain degrees of material success is something that is not alien to women. Many women struggle with their
self image and how they square peg the the round hole of main stream media acceptance.

Dear Space Travelers, be conscious of the media you digest and how you digest it. This really isn't about beer. It's about the car we're supposed to have, the job we're supposed to have, and the endless chase after six pack abs. The first message of an ad is that you lack something. I'm here to say, you bought a DVR so you could skip the commercials, so do it. No DVR? You can find something to do for four minutes that won't insult your self worth.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Free?

Hello Space Travelers, you're staring at possibly the most terrible offences to Islam: An image of the Prophet Muhammad. I drew it. Me. I'll tell you why.

Recently, the creators of South Park aired an episode which featured (kind of) Muhammad. On screen, he was a stick man, and later a black box that read "censored." The point was simple: Your beliefs can't dictate my life and my speech, or rather that of Matt and Trey. The creators and various staff received death threats for this. Eventually Viacom (parent company of comedy Central) said they would pull the episode. This displeased a lot of people. It wasn't because the episode was particularly good either (it was par for the course if you ask me), but simply the principle that people had successfully leveraged violence to get their way.

I'm not really the type to provoke, and certainly as a I drew this, I was concerned about the Muslims that have nothing to do with this issue. Would drawing this make incense them and send the wrong message? Would it marginalize a group further that has been struggling to fit in? In the end, I decided to draw it and let it be what it will. I admit that I'm not well schooled in the dogma surrounding the rule about recreating the image of Muhammad. Perhaps in the end, what comments will come will serve to open up the dialog that is so terribly absent. Either way, I know that if this is truly an offense, it is not worth my life (or anyone's). I get offended daily. I'm not going to hurt someone. If this is serious enough that people are being threatened, the Muslim world is going to have to do some honest introspection on how they find harmony with the rest of the world outside of their customs. There is one question: Do you value free speech over being offended? I do, even if my blood boils as I listen to cruel bigots like Pat Robertson use it to demoralize the entire gay population or even the people of Haiti.

I've never been a USA USA USA rah rah rah type, so when I say that I value the freedom of free speech, it's not some flag waving crap. Our ability to express ourselves without the fear of the government, and without fear of violent reproach is the foundation of all free societies. On May 20th, many artists (both professional and amateur) will partake in the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad to stand in solidarity with those who have already been threatened with violence. While it inspires a warm feeling inside, I hope it also serves to remind us how fortunate we are to be one of the free societies in the world that we can do this. Plenty cannot claim the same.

I won't use the line that if we don't use our right's we lose them. That's a Tea Party rationale for bringing guns to a protest. Instead, I'll keep it simple, don't do this because it's "cool," or "controversial," it isn't a funny. I'd be just as worried about our freedom of speech if it became nothing more than a punchline, even if it started with a joke.

Closing thoughts from Thunderfoot:


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