Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Big Brother is alive and well

A fun Doonesbury from last Sunday. And it rings especially true after this weekend.

It appears Big Brother is watching us all, and he's using 9/11 as an excuse.

Perhaps you've heard: the president has been illegally spying on Americans since 2002. It came out before the weekend in the New York Times, and people are talking.

The Bush folks are claiming the Congress's approval of the use of force against terrorists cancels all applicable laws that made this spying illegal. They also say we should trust them with the powers we have given them.

I don't know about you, but I've read my history books. And this just seems like a big mistake.

My biggest contention is that this spying, along with the we'll-find-out-what-books-you're-reading provisions of the "Patriot" Act, smakes of a bully government. Sure, they could be looking for terrorists. But they could also use these powers to spy on groups and individuals it doesn't like.

Think Nixon (one of the reasons why spy-prevention measures were put into law in the first place).

And hey, if people in government would just do their jobs, most terrorist could be thwarted. You don't need extra powers to fight these maniacs. Look at the Millenium Bombing in L.A. Someone at a border check noticed something suspicious, and the whole terrorist plot was capsized. Too often someone falls asleep at the switch, and *boom* we have a disaster.

We have more to fear from the disease of ineptitude than any bird flu pandemic.

Most of the spying Bush wanted to do could've been made legal by a quick warrant and a handshake anyway. But, as is often the case with this administration, laws are sidestepped when they're deemed a nuisance. King George does what he wants. And this is a guy who supposedly supports the rule of law.

How it's supposed to happen: you don't like a law? Change it.

How it really happens: you don't like a law? Ignore it, and hope that no one finds out.

Thank goodness for the New York Times. They've shown the value of an independent and free press, one who is really a watchdog against governmental extremes and abuses. In all of this, the Times coverage is the only example of how the system is supposed to work. No wonder Jefferson said he'd rather have a free press than government.

And there's no need for a slippery-slope argument here (one contending that, if Bush could ignore a law against spying, he could possibly ignore laws against torture, murder, or even reading his neighbor's mail). The argument against this type of activity can be abbreviated to one name:


I don't trust this administration - or any administration - to use extra wartime powers responsibly. Power does funny things to people's sense of fairness and justice, and especially right and wrong.

And we're watching it happen every day.

Monday, December 12, 2005

*Click here to empty recycling bin*

This weekend, I strengthened my resolve to never let anything go to waste.

I was working at the Recycling Jackson drop-off site, a little cubby-hole of land where Jacksonites can drop off cans, bottles, newsprint, etc. to be recycled.

As a board member of Recycling Jackson, we're asked to volunteer a weekend or two a month to help out. No problem there - a little hard work never hurt anyone (but I learned that 16 and 17-year-olds hate volunteering their time, however - at least the ones I met).

Our organization is also starting an e-waste program, where folks can drop off old TVs, microwaves, and computers to be recycled or disposed of. Electronics tend to be stuffed with harmful gases and materials that can do some real damage to the environment, so the idea is we'll take care of it harm-free.

One lady pulls up in her van and drops off some computer equipment. I look in the back of her van and there glows, turquois-green, one of the original iMacs that Mr. Steve Jobs and company released unto the world in the late '90s.

"Does that thing still work?" I asked the lady.

"Yeah, our daughter used it, and we decided to upgrade," she said. "There's nothing wrong with it. It works fine."


I'm glad that there's a program to dispose of e-waste properly. I'm also glad that this lady didn't just chuck her Mac into the dumpster, smashing the screen and releasing who-knows-what into the atmosphere.

And I'm glad I got a free iMac. You betcha.

But then I thought, "Good Lord, is that what we've come to? A $1,000 piece of equipment is tossed in place of an updated version just a couple of years later?"

In other words, I have an issue with waste. Always have. I remember using the same waterbottle (an Aquafina 20 oz. model, I believe) through two years of my college career. When it got empty, I refilled it in the drinking fountain. It worked just fine.

I hate Styrafoam. I hate paper plates. And I really hate those new Swiffer dry mop thingies, where you use them and then toss the little static pad. What a waste.

Renner used to make fun of me for it. "We have a new czar of recycling," he used to tell me. "Don't you know some people say recycling uses more energy than it saves?"

This coming from the man who would make 200 copies of a three-page article for a 20-student class, and never went double-sided.

The idea that we can use something, throw it away after one use, and never look back disgusts me. But there is an opposite extreme. Take my gramma. She will use a hammer, lose it, and buy another one. Then she finds the old one. Now she's got a dozen hammers in her garage. She'll never run out as long as she's alive (unless she loses all of them - which is very possible).

So the system most of the world has in place - planned obsolescence, I believe it's called - just drives me crazy. I know that the iBook I just bought will be obsolete in a couple of years. And what can I do about it? Well, I can spend a butt-load to upgrade it, knowing that at some point all hardware reaches a ceiling. There's no durability. Not any more. All because companies want you to re-buy what they sell.

Take a lightbulb. There are lightbulbs out there that will last years and save you money over their lifetime. But most folks don't want to pay what they see as a higher price initially. It's madness! And some of the practices are downright sinister. Even Apple does it (here too)

Luckily there's a group of people out there who have found inventive ways to re-use electronics. Like making your iMac an aquarium.

So should my new seafoam beauty crash without the hope of recovery, I know I can make it into a great piece of urban art, like a Bauhausian kitty litter box. But it will not go to waste.

My car isn't the most stylish, or the fastest. But it sure gets me where I need to go. My clothes aren't that fashionable, and I often shop at Goodwill - and when I lose interest in an item, or it doesn't fit, I donate it back to Goodwill. It's a cycle.

There comes a time when a product's effectiveness and viability become absolutely terminal, and at that point I may replace it. But it better have lasted me a long time.

Give me something with a lifespan, damn it.

Or give me an iMac - and I'll put it to good use. I promise.

Monday, December 5, 2005

'Twas the fight before Christmas

Christmas, my friends, is under attack.

That's according to some in the media, like Bill O'Reilly, who've been taking the counter-fight to the ACLU and city councils all over America. According to these folks, there's a vast conspiracy (see: the left-wing media or homosexual agendas) to neuter Christmas.

Even in my local paper, one Jackson resident, Chris Markiewicz, said, "I think there is a movement afoot by a very small minority of people to totally secularize every aspect of the United States." He goes on to say there is a "real attack on Christian values in this country."

The thing is, this "fight" isn't a new one. Wackos have been battling the secular heathens for generations now. And do you know what? Christmas is still around.

To me, the killer is how people are trying to "preserve the sanctity" of Christmas (much like those who are trying to preserve marriage, right?), as if the rules governing our holidays were written in stone.

See if you agree: holidays are a means to escape from the everyday, the normal, the usual, and are a way to celebrate the things in life that really matter. Family, food, and iPods, right?

So why, in Santa's name, do we have to bring our partisan differences into the discussion about the holidays. Good will and peace toward men and women? Not this December.

Speaking of Santa. Do you know where the legend of Santa Claus came from? Most scholarship shows our treatment comes from Greek, Turkish, Dutch, and German (with some Russian thrown in) influences. There used to be no Santa Claus, Virginia, not until we made one up.

Clement C. Moore's "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" gave us the bearded jolly elf we all know and love today. The point is, Santa has changed. Quite a bit.

The same can be said for Christmas. Do some of your own research, just briefly, on the topic and you'll learn quite a bit. Holidays evolve, change, improve, whatever. Halloween wasn't always Halloween, for instance. So why are some so gung-ho to keep Christmas from evolving?

(Maybe my use of language gives some indication...)

Today, people have become aware that not everyone celebrates Christmas in the traditional Christian way. Jews, Muslims, and African Americans have their own take on the winter months. How do you get around the difficulty of wishing someone a good season without offending their religious leanings? Try this:

Happy Holidays! Seasons Greetings!

Man, that was tough. To some, you'd think I punched baby Jesus in the face by uttering those words.

But I didn't. I simply wished you a good December, however you celebrate it. And hey, I didn't say "Go fuck yourself." A "Happy Holidays" is much better than that, right?

Not to some.

Some businesses and towns take the whole thing a bit too far, I'll admit. Recently a man was chastised by his neighborhood association for putting up a nativity scene in his yard. That's silly. It's his property, he can display a bleeding pig heart on the cross for all I care.

One local businesswoman, working for Sears, was scared to show a reporter a memo from the corporate office saying employees couldn't say "Merry Christmas."

There are two ways to look at this:

1.) This is America. The employee can say whatever they damn well please.

2.) If you work for a company, you're bound by their regulations as an employee. If a company says you can't unionize, you can't unionize. If a company says you can't say "Merry Christmas," you can't say "Merry Christmas."

What's funny is the same folks who fight for corporate rights and the "free market" system are the same ones lambasting these companies for policies regarding holiday greetings. There's some inconsistency in the arguments.

My view? This is America. Say what you want. Just don't get pissed when I say "Happy Holidays" because (a) I'm not a Christian and (b) you feel I'm trying to "undermine Christian values."

Celebrate what you want. Just don't impose your own celebrations on others.

It's downright un-American. And it's not very Santa-like.

Happy Holidays, everyone.