Who Watches the Watchers?

I’ve been mulling over this for a while, but a blog post by LiveJournal user elusis really put me over the top. Her viewpoints near the end of her post really put it into perspective for me.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

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Quote of the Day

On the heels of the unsurprising Supreme Court’s decision not to strike down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), Kenny (@Geekyfanboy on Twitter) made this simple statement:

I couldn’t agree more.  I don’t understand why a country wouldn’t defend those who sacrifice everything to protect it and its people.

By the way, I’ll just leave this related gem here as well:

 

Amazon’s Latest Follies

This post covers both sides of the issue after a day of critical thought about this issue.  If you disagree with me, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.

Oh, Amazon, you are quite the hotbed of controversy, aren’t you? You had my brain wrestling over some fairly important issues yesterday with your little fracas, and it took a little while to figure out where I stood on this. I’ll get back to you at the end of this musing.

If you haven’t seen the news yet, take some time to read about it. I know several smaller outlets have picked it up, along with CNN and MSNBC. Amazon recently started selling a Kindle-based e-book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct, which has been taken down as of late Wednesday. The outrage was furious, up to and including folks boycotting Amazon until the offending book was removed.

This is where I jumped off the train. I think we can reach a near unanimous agreement that pedophilia is not acceptable by any means. A how-to guide on the subject is equally unacceptable to me. However, at my core, I do not support censorship on any level. I do not believe that the information or entertainment I choose to enjoy should be filtered by any government organization or corporation. Such activity creates public animosity and backdoor trading sessions, and only serves to increase interest in the subject matter. Governments have tried in the past with religion, homosexuality, philosophy, pornography, alcohol, and even political ideologies themselves. We’re even doing it now every time someone refers to someone else as a “commie”.

Reading this guide would not directly make one a pedophile or even force them to conduct the illegal acts. Last I checked, human beings still have free agency to choose their own paths and actions. Do you seriously believe that reading the Bible instantly makes you Christian? Does watching Saw make you a torture aficionado and force you to kill? Does reading Harry Potter make you a witch or a fan of the occult? Does reading Mein Kampf make you a Nazi or a fan of genocide?  No, they do not.

Similarly, owning a gun does not make you a murderer or bank robber, nor does it enable you to be one.  Amazon is not responsible for acts conducted after purchasing this book any more than a car dealer is responsible for paying your speeding fines.

While the mob mentality can accomplish a great many things, some of those things are bad. I consider banning books and censorship to be one of those things. Remember that this same mob mentality has lead to very horrific acts in our past, including lynching of minorities, burning of witches, destruction of property, and outright warfare.

Information should be free within the confines of the creative rights of the artists. Only through careful interpretation and discussion do we find the true power of that information, the message it tries to convey, and how it will affect our lives.

Don’t censor. Don’t ban. Analyze, interpret, and discuss with an open mind, and then decide if the material is useful or utter dreck.

Hang on, Amazon!  I’m not done yet.

To you, I urge caution and mindful consideration of your future projects. After the homosexual censorship debacle last April, you’re under watch and on notice with me.  While you and I share the philosophy against censorship, you also need to consider good taste in your publishing and sales choices.  You can only make so many bad choices before your faithful walk out the door.  Good luck getting them back.

Your choice with marketing that book is disgusting and disappointing. You had to know that this uproar would occur, and you know what the mob is capable of when fueled by anger, rage, and pain.  If you didn’t know that your choice would go this far, you need to change out your marketing department.

I refuse to boycott you because your customer service has been nothing but exemplary in my book.  I want you remember that just because someone submits something to you for publishing doesn’t mean it deserves to be published in your store.  That’s a marketing decision more than it is a call to censorship, and it should be common sense.

Thank a Veteran Today

From Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, published on November 8, 2010:

On Nov. 11 each year, the United States formally honors the service and sacrifice of more than 20 million living American veterans through their service, as well as all the men and women who have guaranteed our freedom and kept America secure against those who would harm us throughout the years.

Our veterans represent the best of America. Coming from every background and every walk of life, they represent the rich tapestry of our nation and the multitude of cultures that make the United States unique upon the earth.

On Veterans Day, we have an opportunity to thank them, to thank every Marine, Sailor, Soldier, Airman and Coast Guardsmen who has ever worn the uniform for what they have done, and to thank those of you still in uniform for what you continue to do for the United States every day.

Thank you for your service, Godspeed.

Major hostilities of World War I — “The War To End All Wars” — ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November in 1918.  One year later, President Woodrow Wilson declared the day a holiday named Armistice Day.

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with lots of pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

By 1954, the holiday became known as Veterans Day.

Thank a Veteran today, will you?

“The Lessons of Lucasian Vision” is Published

Recently, ForceCast.net started a program for publishing listener editorials about Star Wars. Forcecast.net is the center of activity for the 2010 Parsec Award nominated Star Wars-themed podcast called The ForceCast.

You can find “The Lessons of Lucasian Vision” here.  Please leave your comments either here or at ForceCast.net.

Fences: A Response

This is not an endorsement of any political party.

First, I will present the e-mail which sparked this brainstorm. Second, I will respond. I ask that you read through to the end with an open mind.

The Fence

You can’t get any more accurate than this!

 

Which side of the fence?

If you ever wondered which side of the fence you sit on, this is a great test!

 

If a Republican doesn’t like guns, he doesn’t buy one.

If a Democrat doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.  

 

If a Republican is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.

If a Democrat is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.  

 

If a Republican is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.

If a Democrat is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.  

 

If a Republican is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.

A Democrat wonders who is going to take care of him.  

 

If a Republican doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.

Democrats demand that those they don’t like be shut down.  

 

If a Republican is a non-believer, he doesn’t go to church.

A Democrat non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced.

 

If a Republican decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.

A Democrat demands that the rest of us pay for his.  

 

If a Republican reads this, he’ll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.

A Democrat will delete it because he’s “offended”.  

 

Well, I forwarded it.

 

I reply to this with the assumption that you have an open mind. I stand before you as a person affiliated with no political party whatsoever. I am a person concerned for the course of our great nation and its people.

This chain e-mail assumes that all Americans fit into two neat and easy groups: Democrat and Republican. The truth of this matter lies in the symbol it uses to describe the nation. Fences are used to divide and separate, and in the case of American politics, divisiveness is the last thing we need, particularly in our current time of strife.

Walls and fences, both literal and not, have been used throughout history as a means to divide nations and philosophies. The Berlin Wall divided East and West. The race barrier was used during the era of segregation to divide whites and blacks. The gender gap currently divides men and women in many matters. There’s even a great wall that served to divide people in China.

The problem is that fences have more than one side. There are two easy sides to stand on and fire shots at one another, however there are those who sit on the fence and watch the antics. Those people make their decisions based on the best and worst they see, choosing who they believe to be the right candidate for the right job, regardless of party affiliation. There are also those who live under the fence, off the proverbial grid, and only act to subvert and destroy the foundation beneath the law-abiding citizens above.

There are plenty of people on all sides who want different things, including rights for all people regardless of the differences, natural or assigned. Many rights are guaranteed by the Constitution that guides our mighty nation, but many are not. Mahatma Ghandi once said that “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” John Dalberg-Acton said that “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Even the Christian religion believes that Jesus Christ said “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets,” as quoted in Matthew 7:12.

Our finest hour will not be judged on what side we were on but rather by how we treat one another. Is it constructive to “get a good laugh” at the expense of stereotypes and philosophical differences? Is it morally right?

In this time of national strife and hardship, we cannot afford to be divided by artificial labels and fences. We are Americans first, regardless of our beliefs. It’s time we started working as one nation and one people, not as a grouping of squabbling schoolchildren.

Only together can we survive. Only together will we prosper. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The Cycle of Repeated Foisting

Story-teller and general wordherder-for-hire J. C. Hutchins tweeted about a blog entry by Charles Stross that got me thinking. In the blog, Mr. Stross talks about how he’s annoyed with “glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of Tor.com and io9.” Particularly, he’s upset because he believes there’s far too much of the genre on the market, and that the genre is running the risk of obsolescence due to the “second artist effect.” Apparently, that’s basically copycat storytelling.

Now, here’s my disclaimer: I don’t read steampunk, mostly because I’ve never had the opportunity to pick up anything in the genre. I’m not disinterested – in fact, I’m rather interested based on the costumers I see at Dragon*Con – but rather swamped in higher priorities. But, in fairness, it wasn’t the genre aspect that captured my attention with this blog post.

My first contention is the idea that anyone is “foisting” anything on anyone. Last time I checked – which was one paragraph ago for those keeping score at home – no one was holding a 9mm Beretta to my temple and forcing me to read anything, let alone io9 or Tor. While this isn’t his chief complaint, I’ll still coming back to it later.

My second contention was that this complaint, however well-researched and thought out it may be, is a reminder of the short-term memory issues of the internet and the cyclic nature of markets in general. I quite clearly remember complaints of a similar nature about vampire fiction, military science fiction, urban fantasy (particularly those with “headless” women on the cover), sword/sorcery/epic fantasy, and even bodice-ripping romance novels. Let’s face it, folks: Any market, whether it is stocks or novels, will balance itself out by the principles of supply and demand. If you put a lot of widgets on the markets, the cheap low-quality versions usually get snapped up first in the initial rush.  After R&D takes over, higher quality widgets hit the shelves, people buy those, the reviews show how much better they are, and the cheapos are dumped. Replace “widget” with “book” and see how it works.

Since io9 and Tor aren’t holding me hostage, I’m not obligated to buy and/or read every steampunk/vampire/zombie/whatever novel on the market. I am free to choose the ones I want to based on reviews and advice, resulting in the best bang for my buck when it comes to entertainment in a different world. As I mentioned to J.C., the crap will settle to the bottom and eventually get buried while the stars rise and shine. This goes for every market, not just books, which is why houses nobody wants are eventually torn down, lemon cars don’t go very far, and craptastic movies usually don’t make back their budgets.  There are always bottomfeeders who love the refuse and keep our ocean clean, but they’re not the prime market.  They just keep Tor’s lights on.

I don’t disagree with Mr. Stross that there is a lot of junk out there, but the truth is that there always will be, just as there will always be posts like his and mine that highlight the pros and cons of that constant. What I do disagree with is that it is the end of the world. Cyberpunk and vampires will return, just like James Bond and bellbottoms. If there is a demand, supply will eventually catch up to match it, and no amount of garbage will prevent the diamonds in the rough from eventually surfacing and shining.

The junk is a necessary evil.  Wade through it, pick out the good bits, and keep moving.  If the shelves are full of junk and you want something better, then do something about it.  After all, necessity is still the mother of invention, isn’t it?

“I Saw America Today”

As many of you know, I was in the Navy for seven years. This continues my family’s tradition of military service; my dad retired from the Air Force after 20 years, and both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family have members who served honorably throughout the years. The same goes for my wife’s family.

I received the following from my parents the other day. Naturally, I checked its veracity and it looks legit. They also included a note:

I thought of you as I read this and how many times I have thanked God that you and your father both came home safe. God bless you son and thank you for all you did to help make this country as safer place for all of us. Words can never express how proud of you we are and how much we love you.

The note included my wife as well:

Thank you for being the person you are and for standing by our son while he served his country. You have a special place in our hearts and you always will. You are more than a daughter-in-law, you are a daughter and a very special part of this family. We love you more than words can express.

After reading the following letter, which strikes me more as a poem than anything else, I felt a bit reinforced on a position that I’ve had for a long time. There are people in today’s American landscape that stand on either side of the actions in the Middle East, driven by the politics, logistics, and realities of war. While most people I’ve encountered, regardless of their stance on the war, have shown support for the people engaged there, I’ve debated with a few who can’t distance the two. For them, military action and the military itself are one and the same, and to support the troops is to support the actions they take.

It would be easy to dismiss their claims with a wave of the hand and a quick “if you’ve never served, you’ll never understand.” While certain parts of that are true, I feel it is my duty to help non-veterans understand as much as possible about how the military dynamic works and runs. Monday morning armchair quarterbacking is easy, as are most things with 20/20 hindsight, but the community dynamic is very different from the social dynamic the rest of the world shares.

In reality, the volunteers who serve in uniform are bound by an oath to obey lawful orders. There are methods to review orders if they are questioned, but if a military member disobeys orders deemed lawful upon review, they are punished, and that has repercussions beyond their the absolution of their consciences. After all, most of these brave Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and a punishment that garnishes half a month’s pay for several months could be the difference between their children eating the next week or paying the bills.

I firmly believe that you can support the troops without supporting the war. These brave men and women volunteer to sacrifice upwards of eighteen months at a time away from their families in support of a cause they believe in. Whether or not that cause is just, that level of sacrifice demands recognition.

Furthermore, the poem below reinforces that by detailing an honor guard’s trip to bring a fallen soldier home. Along the way, he encounters people who show their respect for the sacrifice one young man has made, regardless of politics, religion, age, gender, or any other label.

They are Americans first.

One other example of this is the film Taking Chance. If you have the opportunity to watch this powerful film, please do.

“I Saw America Today”

Eric Newman, 30, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded Oct. 14 in Akatzai Kalay, Afghanistan. He married Charidy Newman last year, and was planning to become a state trooper after his career in the military was over. The funeral was held on Saturday, October 24, 2010 with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and several other medals for his exemplary service.

I saw America today.

I was among more than 200 people gathered on the tarmac at the Meridian Air Naval Station to welcome Sgt. Eric C. Newman, 30, of Waynesboro, Miss. home from Afghanistan.

He did not exit to cheers and hugs but was greeted by respectful and women, bikers, policemen, firemen, all in formation riveted their attention as Sgt. Newman disembarked from the plane carrying him.

 He exited in a flag draped coffin, killed in action in Afghanistan.

 The family stood near the hearse and as Sgt. Newman’s casket approached he was greeted by his new wife and his mother as they draped their arms around the casket where their beloved husband and son lay. There would be no married life for the newly married couple and another mother had given her son in the name of freedom.

I saw America today.

The procession formed with a police escort in front leading the hearse carrying Sgt. Newman which was followed by his family, more than 100 bikers, including the Patriot Guard Riders, scores of police officers, firemen, and friends. I rode near the front and I never could see the end of the procession as we rolled over the hills from Meridian to Waynesboro.

I saw America today.

On the 60 mile journey truckers, the big rigs, pulled to the side of the road, exited their trucks and put hand over heart in honor of Sgt. Newman and the American flag. Down the road from one big shiny rig was a humble logging truck, driver standing on the ground, hand over heart.

For sixty miles a mixture of people stood by the side of the road, flag in hand as we rolled past. At every junction where a side road entered there were people. At the overpasses there was always a fire truck displaying a large American flag. Every fire department along the way had their fire truck standing by to honor this young American who gave his life for us.

There was a young Boy Scout, in uniform, proudly saluting Sgt. Newman and the American flags that passed him.

A man in bib overalls stood by a ragged old pickup truck giving honor. Just down the road was a man dressed in suit and tie by his expensive SUV.

Something in the bright blue sky above caught my eye. It was two jet fighter planes flying over the procession, the thoughtful action of fellow soldiers.

I could see a woman kneeling, holding something out in her hands. At first I thought it must be a camera but as I passed I could clearly see it was a folded American flag. Just like the one that was given to my mother when my father died. Yes, it was her way of saying, “I lost a loved one as well.”

I saw America today.

As we left the main road and entered Waynesboro two fire trucks were parked in such a way as to form an arch with a giant American flag suspended between the two.

The streets were lined solid with people. No cars were moving. I observed someone in a wheel chair on the side of the road. When we drew closer I saw several in wheel chairs, some on crutches. They were old, and fragile. They were residents of a nursing home. On down the road there was another group from yet another nursing home, all waving tiny American flags.

As we wound our way through town hundreds of people lined the sides of the streets. We passed an elementary school. The children lined the fence three deep, most with flags, some with red, white, and blue balloons which were later released.

Next we passed the high school. Again the students respectfully lined the streets adjacent to the school. All were standing respectfully in honor of Sgt. Newman.

And did I mention the yellow ribbons? They were on trees, mailboxes, fences, and anywhere people could place them.

I saw America today.

When we had finished the escort all the bikers were asked to meet at the First Baptist Church of Waynesboro. There they gathered us up and escorted us to the Western Sizzlin’ where the people of the town treated us to lunch for doing something of which we were proud to be a part.

Today, I saw America and I’m proud to be an American. God bless America.

Rod Smith, Patriot Guard Rider

October 21, 2010

Laurel, Mississippi