Archive | December, 2012

Traveling and the viking mystique

31 Dec

sigfrontGrowing up I never really liked vikings. I thought they were cliche and technologically uninteresting. I know that might sound weird, but in my medieval living history group we had a group that portrayed vikings and a group that portrayed the later middle ages. I was in that later camp and preferred the sleek design of the later period suits of armor and longswords to the viking’s  lower tech sword and shields. I realize this is absurd, two different regions, two different time periods, but for me it was just a matter of personal taste. I just found the knights and nation states more interesting than roving bands of raiders.

I associate this mindset with the time in my life when I planned to be more stationary. At that time I wanted to be a medieval archaeologist and have a house somewhere in Europe. Travel was an interest of mine, but not really something I wanted to make a main focus of my life. I wanted a more stable, predictable life, and I feel my tastes in medieval history reflected that.

Later, as my expectations and goals for what I wanted in life began to shift towards something more nomadic, I started to change my attitude towards the vikings. The fancy armor I loved and admired so much before (and I still love aesthetically) began to represent an entrenchment in a lifestyle I no longer wanted; a lifestyle of predictability, immobility, and captivity to material possessions.

The vikings, whom I had previously viewed as low tech hoodlums, now represented flexibility, exploration, and adventure. I began to see their lifestyle in a more romantic light and the allure, which had previously alluded me, began to make sense. The fact that I discounted them earlier because of material qualms was just symptomatic of the mindset I was in. Now it doesn’t matter to me that they didn’t have sexy suits of armor, what matters is the freedom of movement and the promise of discovery.  Those are the priorities I have now, and the vikings represent that in some way.

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Wear a skirt, get arrested.

26 Dec

Wearing a revealing clothing is now a crime in Swaziland. Correction, it’s been a crime since 1889, but the country just started enforcing this law against “immorality” more stringently. The reason? To prevent rape.

Classic victim blaming. Unfortunately it’s a sentiment that’s pretty widespread. The idea is that when a woman gets raped, she is somehow complicit in her rape. She encouraged the rape by inflaming the passions of the man who then couldn’t control himself and so he raped her. Had she not inflamed his passion she would not have been raped. Ergo, it’s her fault.

This view of rape is pretty degrading to both sexes. One, it assumes that men are savage beasts without the higher functions like self control and responsibility; secondly, it places the fault of the rape on the victim rather than the person actually perpetrating the rape.

The “logic” here is so ass backwards it’s astounding. I can’t really think of a way to explain to people who think like this. No matter what, a victim is never asking to be victimized or deserves it. “But if you play with fire you have to accept the responsibility that you’ll get burned” is usually how their response goes. Fire is not a sentient, self aware being capable of making a choice not to victimize another person. The responsibility not to rape is solely the responsibility of the would be rapist.

Proponents of this law weakly offer up the excuse that it is easier to rape people wearing skirts then it is to rape people wearing more clothing. This is absurd. The amount of clothing is trivial. If someone wants to rape another person, the fact that the victim has on slightly more clothing isn’t going to make a difference.

I believe much of this line of thinking stems from viewing women as something slightly less than human, as a form of property. When a woman is a thing you posses  rape no longer becomes a brutal crime against another human being, but rather a crime of vandalism against your possessions.

I give up on guns.

19 Dec

I give up. Apparently I’m way off base with this issue, or so everyone tells me. My girlfriend sent me this opinion piece from the New York Times. I would like to address some points the guy makes. But first, I’d like you to understand a little about where I’m coming from with my views on this issue.

I have a deep seated distrust of government, however,I do not believe “the government” is some giant, unified force out to destroy. There are some aspects of government that are beneficial  and some aspects that are harmful.

“The power of the citizens and that of the police approach parity.  The police cease to have even a near-monopoly on the use of force.

To many devotees of the Second Amendment, this is precisely the point.  As former Congressman Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, said in January 2011, “We have a right to bear arms because of the threat of government taking over the freedoms we have.”  The more people there are with guns, the less able the government is to control them.  But if arming the citizenry limits the power of the government, it does so by limiting the power of its agents, such as the police.”

Exactly. From my point of view, the police are not your friends. They are not there to protect you. Their primary purpose is as enforcers and to guard property. Over the years the police in America have become increasingly militarized under the excuse of “increased safety in the threat of terror.” It feels like more and more police are turning to undercover cop cars without markings. These cars are great for laying traps and catching people, but good luck quickly identifying police when you need help. A perfect and recent example of the militarization of police in America took place in Anaheim California earlier this year. A small protest of about 300 people was met with this. Militarized police wearing army camo, carrying tear gas grenade launchers and assault rifles with rubber bullets. Here’s the irony: the protesters were protesting police violence. On the other side other side of the country the NYPD was found to be illegally spying on Muslim students way outside the bounds of their jurisdiction.

I realize my view of police is what you’re probably going to have the largest issue with. So many of our views on the availability of guns depends on how we view the police and their functions. If you view the police as helpful protectors, there to keep you safe, then of course having private citizens own guns sounds absurd. If you don’t view the police like that, then it doesn’t sound absurd. Am I saying all police officers bad guys? Of course not. There are plenty who join up because they want to make a positive difference in their community. Perhaps things are different in other countries where the cultural attitudes towards and of police is different, but here in the US the militarization is very alarming.

“There is, of course, a large element of fantasy in Dickey’s claim. Individuals with handguns are no match for a modern army.”

I knew this would be one of the first criticisms when writing my last post about the need for guns, but I didn’t address it because I wanted to keep my argument short and to the point. Mr. Smith asked me if I “seriously believe untrained civilians can suppress a government with aircraft, ships, control over the entire transportation system and drones, stealth fighters, as well as nuclear weapons?”

Honestly? No. But then if that’s the case then it’s game over. We’ve already lost. Handing over you last recourse to defend your rights from your government is just the final admission of your complete subjugation.

“It’s also a delusion to suppose that the government in a liberal democracy such as the United States could become so tyrannical that armed insurrection, rather than democratic procedures, would be the best means of constraining it.”

I really hope you’re right, but I can’t help but feel that this is based on the wishful assumption that things will always be as stable as they are now. As I pointed out in my previous post, I feel that much of this line of thinking comes from the relatively recent and short track record liberal democracies have had. I bet if you asked people in the Weimar Republic, they would have said the same thing about their democracy. I can only hope that I’m seriously wrong about this because if I’m not, it’ll be too late to say sorry.

“The logic of private gun possession is thus similar to that of the nuclear arms race.  When only one state gets nuclear weapons, it enhances its own security but reduces that of others, which have become more vulnerable.  The other states then have an incentive to get nuclear weapons to try to restore their security.  As more states get them, the incentives for others increase.  If eventually all get them, the potential for catastrophe — whether through irrationality, misperception, or accident — is great.  Each state’s security is then much lower than it would be if none had nuclear weapons.”

But you can’t un-invent the technology. It is there forever. You also can’t take away every country’s nuclear weapons. Unless the one doing the taking also gives up their own weapons, you’ll have a situation where “…only one state gets nuclear weapons, it enhances its own security but reduces that of others…”

“Either criminals and non-criminals will have them or neither will.”

This is just as impossible as taking away every nuke from every country that has them. You can’t take guns away from criminals, especially not with laws that they’re going to ignore anyways. You can only take them away from law abiding citizens, who are, by definition, not criminals.

Another huge issue this doesn’t even begin to touch on is who a “criminal” is. I feel that many people have a very Batman-esque view of criminals as masked henchmen. As if criminals were some try of uniformed group. People are driven to “criminal” activity for a variety of reasons. What if what is “criminal” is actually the morally correct thing to do? The government is the one who says what is criminal and what isn’t. What if the government is full of the real criminals?

“Gun advocates prefer for both rather than neither to have them.”

That’s disingenuous. Nobody wants criminals to have guns, not even gun advocates. I sure as hell don’t want criminals to have guns, just as much as I don’t want mentally unstable people to have guns. In order for me to get my permit to carry my handgun around under my jacket, I had to undergo a mental and criminal background check, get finger printed, and wait several months.

“Gun advocates will object that a prohibition of private gun ownership is an impossibility in the United States.  But this is not an objection they can press in good faith, for the only reason that a legal prohibition could be impossible in a democratic state is that a majority oppose it.  If gun advocates ceased to oppose it, a prohibition would be possible.”

This is ridiculous. Of course a legal prohibition is impossible if a majority oppose it because the majority write the laws. (Ostensibly through representation.) The back in the 1920’s the majority supported a prohibition on alcohol and thus there was a legal prohibition. It was unenforceable and disastrous. A “legal” gun prohibition would result in the same.

 

You know what. Fuck it. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to argue about this any more. This is futile and I have better uses of my time. Whether I’m right or wrong I’m going to lose my human right to defend my person and to have ultimate authority over those who attempt to control me. I just have to fucking accept it and move on.

Why we need guns, even in the wake of yet another school shooting.

17 Dec

With the advent of another school shooting, gun control is back in the spotlight.  The focus of much of the debate revolves around assault rifles and high capacity magazines. I’ve heard people argue that we should ban both high capacity magazines and assault rifles. The proponents of this argument reason that neither are used for hunting, but instead have the sole purpose of enabling someone to kill more people faster. While this is true, the proponents of the ban are wrong in their assumption of what the 2nd amendment was intended for. The 2nd amendment was not written for hunters, it was not written for collectors, it was written for a specific purpose. Here is a simple fact of life:

Government authority is derived from violence.

Like it or not, the government claims a monopoly on socially acceptable violence. (Whether they are justified or legitimate in doing so is another issue.) A government’s laws only have weight because they are backed by the threat of violence. This threat may be very well concealed by formalities like a bureaucracy, but ultimately, if you resist a chain of laws long enough, you will come face to face with an individual with a gun acting on behalf of the government who’s laws you are breaking.

Given that violence equals governmental authority, what happens to a government’s people when they are relieved of their ability to use violence?

They lose ultimate authority over their government.

It is possible for people to exercise authority over their government by voting, but this is not the same as ultimate authority. People can vote about something all they want, but if other people show up with guns, the ones with the guns are going to have the final say. I realize this might sound absurd to someone living in a first world country, but the reason it sounds absurd is because first world countries, by in large, have a relatively good track record when it comes to adhering to the will of their people when the people exercise their will through voting. This track record, however, has varying degrees of length depending on the country.  You only need to look at now first world countries during the various hot and cold wars of the 19th and 20th centuries to see governments repressing their people. (Franco Spain, Vichy France, DDR Germany) It can happen. It does happen. It currently is happening across the middle east. Syria, Egypt, and recently Libya are good examples of where the government swept away any illusions that ultimate authority rested on anything other than violence. It is also here that the people have attempted to reassert their ultimate authority through violence. When the 2nd amendment was written, the colonists in the newly formed United States had just thrown off an oppressor with violence. They had attempted various non-violent means previously, but fond them to be ultimately powerless. They used the last recourse available to them: violence. Having learned this lesson, they drew up the 2nd amendment to ensure that their people would never again be powerless in the face of an oppressor.

The 2nd amendment exists to ensure a people’s ability to use violence against the government.

It is for this exact reason that weapons like assault rifles and their extended magazines are needed. They are designed for you to fight a war scenario and kill people. When someone argues for banning assault rifles, high capacity magazines, and other implements designed specifically for war scenarios, what they are actually arguing for is the removal of a people’s final say over their government.

Children dead, media eager for misery, society’s double standard.

15 Dec

So unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard of the new school shooting that happened in America yesterday morning; this time in an elementary school by yet another deranged individual. Every time there is some horrific tragedy like this the American media collectively orgasm in their pants with excitement. They love it when this type of thing happens and they’re fucking sick human beings for it. They need tragedy, they need grief, fear, and human misery to keep you glued to their “coverage.” Clinical psychiatrists have come out time and time again pleading with the media not to cover these stories because they inevitably inspire copy-cat killers and just fuel the ego of the sick individuals who perpetrate these acts. Does the media care what the clinical psychiatrists say? Fuck no. It’s not about stopping these acts, it’s about ratings. Ratings, and consequently the money the earn from those ratings, is more important that human lives and suffering. Fucked up and disgusting, but that’s the truth. The “news anchors’ these pampered, dolled up husks of human beings will describe to you the misery of others with a twinkle in their soulless eyes.

In the rush to be “first” to cover a heartbreaking story, facts don’t matter. The media named the killer Ryan Lanza when it was his older brother Adam. Not only was Ryan suddenly confronted with the horror that his brother just murdered his mother and a bunch of children, but now he was quite possibly in danger for his life as well. Within minutes  there were multiple Facebook groups condemning Ryan to hell.

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The mindless mob then went on the witch hunt for anything remotely connected with the person wrongly accused of the committing the massacre. For example: Ryan “Liked” the video game series Mass Effect, a series I, myself, am very fond of. Well the public, whipped into a frenzy by the media, started to decry the evils of this video game they knew nothing about. (click to enlarge)

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In a nutshell, Mass Effect is a science fiction roleplaying game about saving the galaxy from a race of alien robots. It has nothing to do with anything remotely connected to a school shooting (but since when have facts mattered?).  Before all the information was available, the governor of Connecticut pleaded with the media not to speculate on the number of dead. Wolf Blitzer, of CNN, reported this and then immediately started to speculate about the rumored death toll, all with a straight face and without skipping a beat. FOX news, not to be outdone, even went so far as to try and interview a child about the trauma she just witnessed, a trauma she’s most likely unable to even comprehend.

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How much you want to bet FOX news got a parental release formed signed by Sofia’s parents so they could interview an 8-year old about her classmates being butchered? The victims are not human beings to these people, they are tragedies to be exploited for profit. It’s fucking sick. While reading over a discussion of the media’s reaction to the shooting on Reddit.com, I came across an insightful comment a user made quoting Robert Ebert (a movie critic) talking about his review of the movie “Elephant.”

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

The main focus of this post is on the tragedy that unfolded yesterday in Connecticut  but I would like to point out something else I find interesting, something that is likely to upset a lot of people in a very particular way. I imagine many will react with ‘now is not the time!”, however it is precisely at times like this that the contrast I’m trying to elucidate is so clear. We have a refined sense of selective outrage in this country. There’s a quote from the Joker in the movie “The Dark Knight” that encapsulates this very succinctly. In this scene the Joker is talking to Harvey Dent about plans, chaos, and society:

You know what, you know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger, will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all, part of the plan. But when I say that one, little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

Even if the plan is horrifying.

We, as a nation, routinely murder innocent civilians, including children like those murdered yesterday in Connecticut. However, when we murder civilians, we do it with flying drones and laser guided missiles in far away lands. We watch them die on little CCTV monitors and go about our day. 98% of the people we murder are not the people we intended to murder, rather, they are collateral damage. Perhaps I was wrong in saying “children like those murdered yesterday in Connecticut.” There are some glaring differences between the children in Connecticut and the children overseas. The children overseas are of a different skin tone, religion, country, and speak a different language. I guess that’s enough to make their lives not matter. Never mind everything they have in common, most importantly of which is being human.

Amelia, over at Imaginary Playgrounds, has a section in a post that I believe sums up why such selective outrage exists.

Within a sick, violent society, all people are taught violence. We are told to look at those who commit violence as role models, so long as that violence takes place within certain relationships where violence is culturally sanctioned. Violence is socially acceptable when authorized by a legitimized authority, and considered unacceptable when performed outside of an authority’s approval. To give an example, a police officer shooting an unarmed person of color is often overlooked, and when it is brought up, excuses are made, and the blame is placed on the victim. Yet, when a person of color defends themselves against police violence and injures a cop in the process, it is viewed as a heinous, irredeemable act of violence. Violence is socially acceptable when performed in service of dominant social ideologies, and unacceptable when it disrupts or subverts dominant social ideologies. A straight, cis man can kill a trans sex worker and get away with it, often being able to use her trans status as a justification, but when a trans woman of color defends herself against a racist, transphobic attacker, she is charged with murder and sentenced to 3 years in prison.

In this case it’s a man killing a group of school children with a gun versus a man killing a group of school children with a rocket fired from a remote controlled plane. In our society, as long as the violence is directed in a direction we’ve been taught is acceptable, irregardless that the end result of the violence is just as horrifying independent of who’s doing it to whom, we have no problem with said violence. It is only when such a heinous act is committed against a group of people we haven’t sanctioned for suffering and death do we cry foul.

Happy four year anniversary of The Godless Paladin blog.

13 Dec

Turns out I’m actually a day late. I started this blog four years ago yesterday. Damn a lot’s changed in four years, but then again, a lot hasn’t. This blog is my oldest friend, a mirror, my space to breathe. It’s changed and evolved over the years as I’ve changed and evolved. Since starting this blog I’ve finished college, lived in four new locations, had friendships and romances come and go, traveled, worked several jobs, and had my share of triumphs and failures. This entire journey has been one of self-discovery. I’ve been constantly examining who I thought I was and what I wanted to become. My view of myself and my goals have changed quite a bit over the years.

When I started this blog I was a fiery, freshly deconverted atheist. My hobbies were video games, medieval living history, and politics. I wanted to be an archaeologist living in Europe and to settle down with a successful woman. I envisioned my life as one spent unearthing the past and discerning what life was like for people long ago.

Well I’m still that fiery atheist, though my eagerness to engage in confrontation over religion is practically non-existent. I tend to try and avoid confrontation in real life, or even simply getting into long, protracted debates on the internet because I no longer feel it is a worth-wild use of my time. I’ve since shed medieval living history as my hobby, though video games remain. Instead my hobbies nowadays revolve around travel. I’ve also changed quite a bit politically. At the start of this blog I was already fairly left wing and progressive, but I’ve since drifted out of the political spectrum into anarchism as I’ve steadily refined my views on politics and humanity. My life goals no longer revolve around digging up the past in Europe. Instead I now want to travel the world and build a beautiful woodland home by a river. I really don’t have any more extensive plans beyond that. I have no idea where life will take me, so worrying over planning particulars is pointless.

Despite writing for four years, I still don’t really feel like I’ve found my voice. I’m not done evolving. I don’t expect I ever will be, but I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made thus far. I’m excited to see where I’ll go on future journeys, physically and interpersonally. This blog will remain my companion on those journeys, and a record of where I’ve been.

I have great parents

10 Dec

I know I’ve often written on here about the rough relationship I have with my parents at times, but I just wanted to stop and write about how much I really do appreciate them. I’m extremely lucky to have great parents. Yes we fight over things at times, but they did a wonderful job raising my sister and I.

My mom is an amazing and fun person. Growing up she always went out of her way to give us the best. My favorite memories she gave me were of all the parties she would throw. She loved any excuse to decorate the house and have a celebration. When we were little, for St. Patrick’s Day, she would flip the furniture over and sprinkle shamrock confetti around the house as if the leprechauns had done it. She’d also place little chocolate coins all around for my sister and I to find. We even celebrated Chinese new year. She’d decorate the house in oriental themed decorations and we’d cook a special dinner.

By far the best were the block parties. My mom would host big parties for the neighborhood around Halloween and Mardi Gras. We would invite all the neighbors over for a cookout and we’d decorate scarecrows for Halloween or our bikes for a Mardi Gras parade. My dad would cook benyas and we’d ride around the street throwing candy to imaginary crowds. (We’d then go back and pickup the candy and eat it)

My mom was PTA super mom. She fought to get us a proper playground in elementary school. (The one that was there was old and falling apart.) On Columbus day she would make my entire class little blue jello cups with whipped cream representing the ocean, and then put 3 little chocolate chips in each cup for the 3 ships that sailed with Columbus. For earth day she’d make chocolate pudding cups with Oreo crumbs representing dirt. She’d then put gummy worms in the pudding cups. She was always really creative like that.

My dad’s a great father. He’s always been there for me and supported me with level headed advice. If ever I had a problem, he’d do his best to help me out with it. When I was little and he went on business trips, he would always bring me back a present from wherever he traveled to. He always helped me out with any construction project I was working on. He would work long hours at work to make sure we had enough.

For my 18th birthday he took me out of school and we flew to New York City to see Spamalot on Broadway  then he took me to a live taping of the Daily Show. I had an amazing time.

Whenever there was a lunar eclipse my mom and dad would take us out to a field with the telescope they bought us and we’d have hot chocolate and moonpies.

My mom loved camping and taking us to the park. My dad would be a good sport and tag along. She’d often get us these cool little cabins to stay in. One of the coolest parks we went to was Fairystone park. On special mornings my mom would make us Mickey mouse waffles with her Mickey Mouse waffle iron. She’d put M&Ms as the eyes and a cherry for the nose.

When I was into doing medieval living history my parents supported me and drove me to all my events. My dad even helped me build some of my catapults and then towed them to the soccer field to fire.  My mom drove me every Sunday to Mr. Mac’s house to work on my suit of armor, a 30 minute drive each way. She would then sit there for three hours while I worked.

At the same time my parents helped me decorate my room like a castle. They helped me paint it like stone blocks and my dad made me custom wooden closet doors. We also painted the bathroom like a rain-forest  We had the coolest house in the neighborhood.

When we first moved from California to Virginia we would have root-beer float parties on the front porch whenever it rained.

My dad built us an amazing tree house. in the back yard. It had a main room with a skylight, windows with shutters, and a railing we could use to walk around it. It even had a zip-line. He worked all weekend on it and it was amazing.

Every summer we’d take road trips up to my grandmother’s house. While we were up there we’d drive to Vermont and visit the Chocolate barn where we’d buy chocolates and a candle factory where we could make our own candles. We would always be sure to visit the old covered bridges and hold our breaths to make a wish as we drove through them.

My parent took us traveling from a young age, something that I’m very grateful for. I loved volcanoes as a kid, they took me along on their 10 year anniversary to Hawaii when I was 4 because they knew I would want to see the volcanoes. They took me all over Europe and the Caribbean. They planned a special trip for me to England because they knew how much I wanted to go. They even sent me back there for a field school when I wanted to study archaeology.

Perhaps most importantly they put me through college. I know plenty of people my age with mountains of student loan debt that they’ll be buried under for years to come. My parents spared me that and as such I’m free to achieve my dreams.

My entire life they’ve always stood by me and did everything they could to give me a great childhood. They humored all my crazy hobbies and projects, and always encouraged me to achieve my goals. Whenever I was having a rough time in life, they were there. I have amazing parents that I’m very grateful for, and I love them very much.

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