Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Damned If You Don’t

Recently I set forth what I thought was a leading-edge new legal theory, namely that everything which introduces discomfort, whether physical or psychological, to me, Dr. Wes Browning, should be, and in fact already is, illegal.

Now I feel hopelessly outclassed by Afghanistan clerics calling for the death penalty for Abdul Rahman, the fellow who allegedly converted to Christianity from Islam 16 years ago. The clerics’ theory goes way beyond anything I had thought to propose. They don’t just want to execute those who are openly apostate, people who thereby directly visit psychological discomfort upon the clerics. They also want to execute those who are “outed” as having been closet apostates, for, if I’ve got my English tense straight, having potentially have might had brought psychological discomfort upon them.

Let me try that again. The man had been apostate in secret for 16 years, and then was exposed by in-laws. From my silly Western point of view, I would have thought that the in-laws were the ones who would be charged with causing the discomfort, but that just goes to show how dismally non-multiculturalized I am.

No, the real affront was Abdul Rahman’s hidden affront to the very fabric of space and time for secretly switching religions in mid-life and then enabling in-laws to find out about it and tell people. Why, someone could have been hurt all this time.

“Quick,” they seem to be saying, “someone hang Abdul right now because at any time in the last 16 years he might have ridden into Jerusalem or Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif on a donkey, started sermonizing, and forced us to have previously gotten New Testamenty on his wrists and ankles.”

I’m sure the parallel to the Zacarias Moussaoui case has by now struck some of you. Moussaoui, of course, is being tried for the opposite, for not having done what he might have done, namely to have admitted to not taken part in 9-11, prior to its happening, in order that it could not have happened. I mean, when he was jailed before 9-11, he was supposed to have told the FBI, before 9-11 happened, that it would happen. Not the day, the event. So that it wouldn’t have happened.

It makes perfect sense to me, and I want to see these principles extended further. We need to prosecute more people for what they might potentially have done. I believe that is in fact the original meaning of the Latin “pro secute” – secute them before they secute you.

Hey, secute them even if they never secute you, but could have, if you had let them, or if they weren’t too afraid of you to.

Now the prosecutor in Afghanistan is spoiling the whole thing by trying to let Abdul off for having converted while not in his right mind. I was hoping that at the very least the clerics would offer to bless Abdul’s soul and commit it to Heaven just before beheading him, provided that he recanted his conversion and denounced Satan and Christianity. But I guess I can’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.

Still, as of this writing, the situation is salvageable. There are reports of “hundreds” of Muslim protestors in Afghanistan protesting the possible impending release of Mr. Rahman, on the grounds that to release him would make Islam look bad. Maybe they could hang the prosecutor for having had possibly released him last week, when he didn’t. In so doing they might save Islam at the last minute from the international disgrace of having shown tolerance.

Or, they could not hang the prosecutor, and say that they might have, and give themselves points for having potentially done it. Then 16 years from now, they could do it anyway, and say they’d done it all along, “in their hearts,” where it counts.

Maybe the protestors are trying to do Christianity a favor. After all, there probably wouldn’t be a Christianity today if Pontius Pilate had granted an insanity plea.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Way of the Dodo

I’m on a mission to call attention to the stupidity and cowardice and inadequacies of human beings as a whole.

Many people in the world make it part of their religion to tout the Glories of Humankind. Humankind, also stupidly called Man, as if the half that birthed and suckled it never existed, is supposed to be created in God’s image. We are supposed to be the Pinnacle of Creation. Our Superior Intelligence is presented as one proof of this alleged fact.

Yes, we are undeniably the most intelligent species on this planet, when we have had our coffee. But we humans also account for all the most grievous stupidity that inflicts Earth, and the total amount of stupid human behavior outweighs the total amount of actual intelligent human behavior by at least a factor of ten, in both the amount of behavior generated and in the consequences incurred.

If a creature is a genius one hour every day, but throughout the remainder of the day the same creature is so stupid it can’t figure out how to exist without persistently contributing significantly to the successful ongoing dismantling of the biosphere of a planet 40 million meters in circumference, then that creature is – in sum total -- dreadfully, pathetically, and laughably, stupid.

If we were created in God’s image, then God is stupider than the dodo. The dodo only managed to get itself extinct by being so stupid as to trust human beings. Humans are so stupid as to be utterly untrustworthy, even toward defenseless dodos. That’s stupider, and if it continues, humans will not only be as extinct as dodos already are, but they will have made of themselves much bigger jackasses in the course of becoming so, by taking down everybody else around them in the process except for an assortment of lucky germs and insects.

This rant is brought to you by a man typing in the morning of March 20, 2006, contemplating the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a war which was never urgently necessary, whose “victory” is costing more than $80,000,000,000 a year, not counting deaths, anguish, and other mere secondary costs.

This rant also comes from a guy who regularly hears people in the local homeless service community, some of them exceptionally intelligent people, when they have had their coffee, say that we need to practice “triage” to solve homelessness in King County and the rest of the country.

French wool traders used “triage” to mean “choose” or “select.” Napoleon’s surgeon used it in a medical context to describe the systematic prioritization of battle wounded for medical care, under emergency conditions, when there is a shortage of medical resources, in the form of personnel, supplies, space, or time.

Where is the shortage of resources to solve homelessness, in the form of personnel, supplies, space, or time, in a country that can afford an Iraq War at more than $80,000,000,000 a year for three or for ten years, or however long it may take, whenever it feels itself in the freaking mood?

The ridiculousness of the situation we find ourselves in was brought home to me yesterday afternoon. I was waiting for a bus in front of the King County Courthouse. As the bus approached, a young man walked across the street to my side, slowly, and steadily, directly in the path of the oncoming bus, deliberately forcing the driver to brake for him 40 feet before the stop, endangering the safety of the passengers on board.

The man got on the bus, and the driver asked him why he had walked in front of her bus. His defiant answer was, “I have a Purple Heart”.

That pretty much summed up the stupidity of the situation we’re in. Question: Why are we squandering our nation’s resources in Iraq? Answer: 9-11. It’s our country’s collective Purple Heart, and in our collective stupidity, it justifies any and all cowardly recklessness.

We are thus so much a part of Humanity.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Don’t Rain on My Pleasure

Last week a California court, in the course of seeing to it that a cocaine possessor wouldn’t get off on a technicality, came up with what struck me as a very useful new legal theory.

The arresting officer had searched the man against his wishes after finding him urinating in a Berkeley parking lot. Of course, a police officer can’t search you against your will anytime he or she wants. He or she has to catch you committing a crime, or have a reasonable suspicion that you have just committed a crime, or some such thing. I don’t know the exact legal language of the rule, but one of the words “crime” or “illegal” is in there.

So it looked like Mister Crack Pants might beat the charge, since for some reason not explained in the news story where I found this, there’s no law on the books to explicitly make peeing in Berkeley parking lots illegal.

Now, before you all rush to Berkeley to enjoy the heady freedom to pee virtually anywhere in that urban paradise, I should warn you that the appeals court’s clever thinking has corrected the situation. They determined it has been illegal all along to pee in Berkeley parking lots, in spite of the inconvenient absence of legislation to that effect, on the grounds that it “interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of both life and property.” Shazzam! So the arresting officer had the right to search, so the cocaine can have been admitted into evidence, so the conviction stands, so let the sentencing proceed!

This is good news. All any of you need do to break the law now is interfere with my comfortable enjoyment of life. If you have any questions, that’s “my” as in me, Copyright Dr. Wes Browning.

It’s not just finding urine in my parking stall that hinders my absolutely precious enjoyment of every moment of my precious life and my precious pleasure in parking my motor vehicles, but there are certain definite other things I don’t like either, that are now -- post factamente, no contradicteme -- as illegal as peeing in a Berkeley parking lot. Make my day, or you’re under arrest.

Take public morning activities, for example.

I’m not going to say all morning people should be lined up against the wall and shot. For any of us to say that would only be to stoop to their level. All I’m going to say is that for people to drive around and talk and whistle while they work before noon interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of my life and that of other decent people and therefore such people as do those things are guilty of misdemeanors and they must turn themselves in to the police at once. The actual penalty for their behavior will be worked out later, when some more judges have worked out what the law has always been all along. Such work will wait until afternoon.

Recently I have been noticing some delays as I ride busses about downtown. Metro Transit has openly admitted that, subsequent to the tunnel closure, bus travel times across downtown have increased by an average of 2 and one half minutes. That is 2 and one half minutes twice each day subtracted from my comfortable enjoyment of my life by the criminal bus company. Again, I don’t say heads should roll, permanently, but only that they should roll for at least five minutes daily, or as much as jurists may later deem fair.

Thanks to this precedent having been set, It is now and always has been against the law to be Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, or my former next door neighbor Steve G., or anyone else who hacks me, Dr. Wes Browning, off. Because when I get hacked off I’m not comfortably enjoying my life.

Thank you California’s Court of the Appeal for the Second District! Now we won’t ever need stupid legislators again. One law fits all!

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The Rights Stuff

If I ponder an imponderable, it can’t be really imponderable, can it? That’s just the sort of thing that keeps me, and people like me, awake for hours each and every night, and gives us the sense that life is long and filled with riches, when it’s actually a bleak and desolate wasteland, fraught with misery and pain, and not quick enough.

Speaking of Tim Eyman, what is his problem? He referred to the protections granted by the Gay Rights Bill as “special privileges” when they’re just the same privileges of non-discrimination we all expect. Does he have someone specifically in mind he would like to be able to refuse to rent to? Couldn’t he find a better excuse? Who let Eyman own property? Can’t we discriminate against twits?

I realize that neither the Gay Rights Bill nor Eyman’s initiative opposing it have any bearing on gay marriage, but I can’t get that issue out of my mind every night I’m trying to sleep either, so I am going to set forth my latest political theory on the topic anyway.

Here it is: Let the gays decide it themselves. By democracy!

Is that radical, or what? I’m saying, maybe they want to, maybe they don’t. Let’s make them vote on it among themselves, and leave the rest of us out of it. Sort of like when we let the Saudis democratically prohibit women from breathing and driving at the same time, and we let them be our allies anyway. Let’s introduce democracy to gays! Then if we don’t like what they decide, we can say something Rumsfeldian about it, like “democracy isn’t always a pretty sight, you know,” or “the road to democracy is sometimes bumpy, you know,” or “you sometimes don’t know you know, you know, don’t you know.” “Could I repeat the question? Of course I could. But it wouldn’t be constructive.”

Who knows? Maybe the gays would vote marriage down. After all, it defies all their gay traditions. Why do you think they’re called gay, anyway? Gay, as opposed to miserable. Why ruin that?

But what I’ve really been pondering at all hours of the day is, how is it that a nation that has the cajones to claim to be exporting freedom and democracy throughout the world can’t figure out which part of that package is the cart and which is the horse? Why are Americans so stupid when it comes to freedom and democracy, when we ought to be the world’s experts on the subject, since we tell the world every day that we are, and since we kill who knows how many innocent civilians in the course of teaching the world about freedom and democracy, all the time.

Here’s the deal, as worked out by none other than the guys like Madison and Jefferson, the people who brought freedom and democracy to Anglo-American landowners: Freedom first, democracy second.

First you decide who you are. Are you all the people? Then all the people have to be free. Are you just the white people? Then just the white people have to be free. Are you just the heterosexual people? Then decide what fraction of a human a gay person is.

If you can’t bring yourself to say, in writing, that a gay man is only three fifths human, and not worthy of a vote, and so take responsibility now and for all history for being that big of an ass, then you need to sit yourself down and grant him all the same civil rights everyone else gets.

Then you can have democracy.

You can’t call this or any other system a true democracy as long as you systematically limit the freedom of any of the people that make it up.

Civil rights are a moral absolute. No one has the right to deny others their civil rights, not even by means of the ballot box. Eyman’s initiative isn’t only wrong, it doesn’t deserve to exist.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Potatoes Don't Grow On Trees

Last week my copy of the American Civil Liberties Union 2006 Workplan arrived in the mail. Having experienced something of a windfall last year I had dished out some cash to the ACLU in order to fulfill a 13 year old wish to be a “card carrying member” of the organization, just like Dukakis. So now I’m on their mailing list, and by the way I’m also on the mailing lists of countless other organizations seeking money to correct societal ills, because for all their talk about rights to privacy the ACLU apparently doesn’t mind sharing my name and address with the whole world.

But I’m not going to whine (anymore) about that. After all, it hasn’t been so bad. The begs for money just fill my mailbox and there’s a wastebasket right below it, so I don’t have to carry them too far. Plus I find some opportunities that I appreciate. For example the NAACP offered to make me a card carrying member for a price that I thought was quite reasonable, considering that I could use the card for fun things, like convincing dumb people that I’m an honorary Person of Color. Oh yeah, and I like some of the work they do.

Of course you can join organizations without liking everything they do. Believe it or not, even though I’m on the board of this rag-plus-do-good entity, I don’t agree with everything they do. For instance, I think vendors should be able to get papers on Sunday. Or, to take a better example, I think I should be paid for writing this. I would accept the Calvin Trillin /Village Voice deal: one column, one baking potato. Taking into account the fact that Washington grown Russets are now hovering near 30 cents per pound and that single potatoes average less than half a pound, I think that would be eminently reasonable. But, “no, if we paid you a potato, we’d have to pay everybody a potato,” is all I hear.

Anyway, when I got my ACLU 2006 Work Plan out of my mailbox, Anitra Freeman was there. Ms. Freeman happens to be a Raging Granny, so she is under surveillance by the FBI for such things as singing parodies that might or might not hurt politicians’ feelings, wearing silly outfits, and lying down on city property, pretending to be dead. So she appreciates a lot of what the ACLU does, but when she saw my mail she complained “the ACLU doesn’t see homelessness as a civil rights issue.”

“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” I thought. “Of course they do,” I thought. For instance they’ve fought LA’s version of a No Sitting Ordinance, not just because they care about the right of ordinary citizens to sit down on sidewalks, but specifically, they care about the right of homeless people to do so. Or, there are the lawsuits in a number of places to stop police from confiscating homeless peoples’ property. Or, there's work that could prevent homelessness, like lawsuits to stop wrongful evictions. A recent case took a landlord to court for trying to evict a battered woman. The landlord didn’t want her out because she was battered. He wanted her out because she called the police. She was supposed to just take it. So the ACLU got involved. So there, Anitra.

But then I read the Workplan itself and could not find homelessness addressed in all 8 pages.

Would it have taken too much ink to mention, somewhere among the ten paragraphs under the heading “Defending the Right to Vote,” for example, that the right of homeless persons to vote has been increasingly under attack in this country? How about mentioning somewhere that the work to protect the right of homeless people to their property is barely begun?

After that I set myself down with pen and paper to think of how many ways homelessness is a civil rights issue, and in two minutes I had two pages of notes on the subject.

Hey, ACLU, you could do that too.