05 June 2009

Flight 93 Memorial

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported today that the Federal Government is hopeful that eminent domain proceedings will not be necessary to acquire the land for the proposed Flight 93 memorial. Story here.

So let me get this straight. You are going to build a memorial to individual heroism in the face of terrorism by kicking your fellow citizens off of their property ?

04 June 2009

A Tale of Two Cities (With Apolgoies to Dickens)

I love hockey. Sorry that I may disappoint my more radical Anarchist friends but give me a hockey game at any level, a beer and I'm one happy Buddhist camper. Right here in Pittsburgh we have game 4 of the Stanley Cup about to start. I love the Penguins. Sorry again. As Anarchists we are supposed to be sullen, moody individualists cursing such institutions that advocate mandatory dress codes in the form of the dreaded "white out." Sorry to my Buddhist pals, we are not supposed to be attached to anything, right ? Well, Nirvana just might be a little closer if # 87 hoists the cup over his head.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were born the same year as me, 1967. Like me, they've undergone a few changes in ownership, close brushes with bankruptcy and a will to fight on despite the fact that their fan base had dwindled. We've both been locked-out, cursed-out and nearly knocked-out by forces beyond our control but still we soldier on.

Many local, and national, news sources are starting to pick up on the whole "rust belt" Stanley Cup finals between two declining industrial towns. They point to Pittsburgh as what Detroit should aspire to, since Pittsburgh is (by their definition) so much further ahead. Here's a story from Detroit. And here's another from....Fort Worth ?? Pittsburgh is no longer a steel town, Detroit is no longer a car town. On and on and on.

What nobody wants to point out is that both cities were killed by the same gun- globalization. Pittsburgh's mills and Detroit's car manufacturing were both killed by political decisions. Both were done in by cheaper foreign labor and a government lacking the resolve to protect industries of national importance. I know, I know, you are screaming right now and jumping up and down- it was the unions that were paid too much, management that was paid too much, not enough innovation etc. etc. Believe it or not, I have an MBA and understand these things. In fact, I'm looking at it right now. Huh, nice. And where has globalization gotten us to ? Cheap Hyundais, and empty main streets in Detroit and Pittsburgh.

I remember when I was a kid heading home from the arena. On the right side of the road, sitting against the Monongahela River were massive steel works. Fire and smoke belched into the night sky. A vision of Hell but in some ways comforting as well. Roll down your window and hear the mill's roar, smell the stink. The slag piles were massive cliffs with burning saplings as new hot slag was dumped down the hill. I still remember that, small burning bushes in the night.

Ride up the River and the mills are gone. Redevelopment of office parks and technology companies. Mill towns are a shadow of their former selves. The Churches speak the names of where the workers were from- England, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Ireland, on and on. Except there are no parishoners. The kids have moved on. They are now living in enemy territory- home of the Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes. Towns with no hockey history, undeserving of even having a franchise. The homes of the suits and the fur coats, the place to be seen. But now that you can't win anything the pretty boys and girls have left the building.

Bring the teams back to where they belong. Working towns like the Original Six and their expansion brethren of 1967. We are the idiots still hanging on to a hope and a belief, a fierce love of where we are from and witnesses to how a team can briefly bring us all together. Pittsburgh is a strange place that way. A Bermuda Triangle of loyalty that can have have atheists hugging priests, conservatives hugging liberals and myself telling everyone to go fuck themselves. Good luck Pens, bring it on home.

03 June 2009

Here Comes The Judge - Sort of

The June 3rd, 2009 issue of the Pittsburgh City Paper contains an excellent article entitled "Bench Strength" by Chris Young. The article examines one of the leftovers of Pennsylvania's English past namely the local magisterial (or district judge) system. As many citizens may (or may not) be surprised to hear, all you need to become a judge in this state is enough votes and completion of a training course.

I've stood in front of a couple of these stooges over the course of my life, not for anything major but for annoying inconveniences such as parking tickets, speeding and once in handcuffs (charges dropped later, but that's another story.) If you've ever paid a fine in one of these offices and taken the time to look at your receipt, you will see a long list of beneficiaries making money off of your transgressions. Therein lies the answer to why this system exists- to make money. Any political hack, regardless of legal training or lack thereof, can aspire to this well paid position ($ 75,000.00 plus) and enjoy all the benefits of wearing the black robes and being called "judge."

Working hand in hand with the magistrate system is another anachronism which should be put to rest- the constable system. These soldiers of misfortune work for the magistrate system serving warrants and bringing the accused before their magisterial masters. Like their legal counterparts, these individuals are not the most highly trained or intelligent fellows but they too like the perks of wearing a uniform, having cool flashing lights on their cars and the legal right to carry a weapon in the course of their duties. If you ever see a fat, disheveled and armed man in a wrinkled uniform, it's a fair bet it's your local constable.

I once received a parking ticket in Washington County. I didn't pay it. They wanted $ 5.00 for being 10 minutes late on a 0.25 meter. Sometime later I received a notice of a bench warrant. A local constable mailed me a badly spelled letter that looked like it had been copied twenty or thirty times over at the local gas station. It stated that "time had run out" and I was facing imminent arrest. I even found his business card taped to my garage door. Wishing to avoid a Ruby Ridge type scenario over a $ 5.00 ticket, I caved into the Man and paid $ 60.00 to take my name off of America's most wanted.

On another adventure to magistrate land, I found myself in the office of another one in Westmoreland County. I noticed that there was a helpful sign in the office that promised discounts at the local hot dog shop to local law enforcement (the magistrate also owned the hot dog establishment.) Seeing that my fate could be decided by a discounted hot dog and fries, I plead guilty and took my lumps. Incidentally, I had eaten at the hot dog shop some time earlier. It sucked. I mean, how hard is it to make a good hot dog ? Especially if your primary business is selling hot dogs ? Anyways, I digress.

The state should not be able to sub out its functions to district judges, constables, for profit companies which collect local taxes, privately owned prisons or any other entity without direct civilian oversight (such as police review boards.) This entire sorry system should be scrapped. Barring that, district judges should be lawyers in the hope that they at least didn't sleep through some ethics training and their constable counterparts should be held to a higher training standard as well. Maybe we can start with how to wear a uniform properly.

02 June 2009

Say it ain't so Osel !

Well, this is a timely article given my recent tirade about religion. The boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of a spiritual leader has renounced any such connection to Tibetan Buddhism. For those not familiar with Buddhism, there are many schools of thought regarding this belief and Tibetan Buddhism is but one. As someone studying Theravada Buddhism, I respect the Dalai Lama as a person who has quietly fought injustice in his homeland and abroad but I have no real belief in some of the more supernatural aspects of the Tibetan belief system.

One aspect of the article that caught my eye regarded what the young lad was allowed to watch on television-

  • Yesterday he bemoaned the misery of a youth deprived of television, football and girls. Movies were also forbidden – except for a sanctioned screening of The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy, about a kidnapped child lama with magical powers. "I never felt like that boy," he said.

Forcing anyone to watch that movie should be investigated as a violation of basic human rights.

Another, far more troubling quote from the article-

  • By 18, he had never seen couples kiss. His first disco experience was a shock. "I was amazed to watch everyone dance. What were all those people doing, bouncing, stuck to one another, enclosed in a box full of smoke?"

I don't know what's more frightening- the fact that this kid was basically imprisioned by a bunch of rabid monks or the fact that disco still exists somewhere in this world.

Oh No Canada- Part Deux

Here is a follow-up opinion piece to the article posted yesterday regarding free speech in Canada. Apparently, governmental entities will now classify such activities as anti-police graffiti as deserving definition as a hate/bias crime and will be investigated as such.

From the article-

  • It would seem the police are in the business of monitoring any type of protest, march or activity that could possibility result in a hate crime incident. That means protests about native land claims, environmental protection, poverty, public debt and homelessness; issues that have been raised before during economic summits and Olympics are now fair game to be classified as potential “hate crimes.”

I've long thought it a bad move for Anarchists to align themselves with Leftist and Progressive thinking regarding free speech issues. This is the boomerang that we now face. The State, Left or Right, is the enemy of the people. Anarchists that fought for hate crimes legislation now risk being hoisted by their own petard as the State uses the same laws to target all of us. By the way, what exactly is a bias crime in Canada ? Does professing a love for Molson over Moosehead get you shipped off to the Arctic Circle ?

01 June 2009

Oh No Canada !

While I often think of Canada as our friendly, docile neighbors to the north, recent political developments have shown that it is increasingly being run as a semi-Fascist police state which is using "hate" crime and speech codes to crackdown on free speech and dissent. A news article from Hamilton, Ontario said that police were going to monitor a local anarchist book fair for signs of hate crimes. These crimes are defined in Canada (according to the article) as-

  • Hate crimes, by definition, are ones committed “against a person or property which is motivated solely, or in part, by the suspect’s hate/bias against a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability group, age or gender"

This small incident is reflective of the wider use of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act to stifle political debate and free speech by the government. How an anarchist book fair fits into crimes against any of the defined parties above requires an amount of legal gymnastics that is beyond me. The truth is that it has nothing to do with hate crimes against persons or property- the government fears hate directed at itself.

31 May 2009

Sunday Sermon

I recently finished reading "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens. Although I obtained my copy from the public library, it is widely available in bookstores and recently came out in paperback. I've always enjoyed reading Hitchens' works and listening to him on radio and television. He is a throwback in some ways, a crumudgeonly anti-establishment ex-Trotskyite Englishman (now American citizen) who speaks for the oppressed and downtrodden regardless of who is doing the oppressing at the time. I've always liked him because he skewers both the Left and Right with equal abandon.

In "God Is Not Great" Hitchens takes the matter of religion head-on arguing that it is a sham created by man to oppress and control the masses. He bases his argument on an equal examination of Islam, Christianity and Judaism with some other cults thrown in for good measure. He methodically examines the basis of the writings of these religions, their interpretation and the countless lives lost due to them. Hitchens' goes as far as to argue that introducing children to religion at a young age is tantamount to child abuse. Although it seems light on evidence and rushed at times, I liked the book and would recommend it to both believers and non-believers alike.

I was raised as a Presbyterian in a generally religion free family. Church was a once or twice a year trip based around holidays and beyond a period of study for the confirmation process, I can say that my upbringing was generally devoid of any great spiritual message. That being said, I was encouraged to do a great deal of reading on the subject, on the history of the church and the scriptures themselves. I always enjoyed discussing the subject with my father as we asked each other questions on subjects such as the formation of the universe, who created God, the apocalypse and the meaning of life. Despite the fact that I never attended church regularly, I found that I was better acquainted with the bible, and the history behind it, than many others that went every Sunday.

My belief in the Theravada school of Buddhism was a slow and gradual process based upon study and reflection upon the Christian beliefs with which I was raised. Old gnawing doubts about Christianity arose and were reinforced by the actions of others that I considered to be devout Christians. If Hell really exists, for example, how could a devout Christian who attended church every week and ate dinner with her priest a couple of times per month steal money from my company ? If Hell was real, and some absolute punishment awaited her in the afterlife, how could she reconcile that with her actions which violated a Commandment and destroyed my life ?

A more recent reinforcement of this line of reasoning was confirmed by the governmental report on the horrifying, and long-term, abuse of children at the hands of religious orders in Ireland. If God is real, and he is all-seeing and all-knowing, and eternal hell awaits those that commit such terrible crimes, how could these people (especially as priests who are supposed to really believe this stuff) commit thousands of acts of child abuse including rape ? How could a religious institution not only cover up their crimes but transfer them to new areas so they could begin their perversions anew ? Incidentally, if you have the time, and the stomach, you can read the report for yourself here.

I was attracted to Buddhism because of its lack of proselytizing and the Buddha's message that everything he said should be challenged and debated- quite different from the absolute authoritarian positions of the three great monotheistic faiths. Buddhism, at least in the original conservative Theravada school, can also be better described as a philosophy rather than a religion. The Buddha rejected all talk that he was a deity or possessed any supernatural powers- he was simply a man with a new way to ponder the mysteries of the mind and to bring a new system of ethics for us to examine. He really didn't care if we debated these ideas, embraced them or rejected them. Indeed, I am still not completely sold on the Buddhist philosophy and have major disagreements with the concept of reincarnation which cannot be proven empirically. I am free to examine this issue further, however, without the judgment of a Priest, Rabbi or Imman.

As someone who has sought shelter in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, I am always open to discuss my beliefs with friends and family. I am amused, but not surprised, by the reaction of others when I tell them that I am a Buddhist (especially by fundamentalist Christians.) Far from taking a step back and examining their beliefs from all sides, I have found fundamentalists deaf to any discussion of their faith and validity of mine. The lack of knowledge regarding Buddhism, and many other beliefs, is a testament to the public educational system of our country. I sometimes think that if I was a Satanist, my Christian friends would at least know what I'm talking about.

As a heathen Buddhist, I have found out that I am damned to hell, but those who are born again are on the fast-track to paradise. While they attack Buddhism as one hand, they refuse to examine the evidence regarding who wrote the old and new testaments, the contradictions in some of the stories and the process by which the so-called word of God was handed down through history. Otherwise intelligent people would would closely analyze the difference in cell phone plans seem completely willing to believe the Christian story hook, line and sinker.

Faith is a personal issue which I respect to a point. As long as it stays out of the public and political arena, I believe that we all can believe to worship, or not-worship, in our own way. The frightening thing to me, and one of the factors that drove me away from both Christianity and the Republican Party, was the rise of the Christian Right and its battle for dominance of the Republican message. There is a very thin line between a supposed republic and a theocracy and I fear that we are taking the first tentative step across it.

The other problem that I have with some aspects of religion, like Hitchens, is how it is impressed upon our children through a process of indoctrination. Rather than allowing children to grow up with a wide education in varying faiths and philosophies, they are taught a very narrow view of the world and shown that anyone outside of these views is wrong and worth of contempt. At best, this creates arrogance and feelings of supremacy. At worst, it convinces children to strap their chests with explosives.