“Pew! Pew!”

America doesn’t have a lot going for itself right now. We aren’t the best educated nation, we don’t have the most competitive economy, we have some of the worst income inequality in the world, and the likelihood of social mobility is appalling. So for all of our not-quite-top-of-the-class statuses, at least we can claim that we have the most guns per capita and the most gun death rates!

Okay, so maybe the number of people falling to bullets isn’t something to brag about, but you wouldn’t be able to tell based on the enthusiasm groups of people have for defending their right to own assault weapons without background checks.

This guy looks patriotic to me.

This guy looks patriotic to me.

I’m not trying to imply that pro-gun groups like the NRA want record gun deaths each year. Gun owners are not inherently violent people, neither are the interest groups that they are a part of. It’s pure coincidence that the NRA came into being shortly after the KKK was recognized by Congress as a terrorist organization in 1871

Totally different, you can see my face.

Totally different, you can see my face.

But seriously, in the modern day the NRA is not a racist organization, nor does it endorse shooting anyone besides criminals. In fact, a majority of the NRA’s membership comes from discounts at shooting ranges for members. If you own a gun and you like to shoot it, it’s a really good idea to join the NRA because of the financial benefits. There are also political benefits if you run for office.

The major problem with groups like the NRA is that they utilize slippery-slope logic every time someone proposes legislation that has something to do with gun regulations. A majority of Americans are in favor of background checks before rifles are given out. A majority of Americans are in favor of eliminating the right to assault weapons and hollow-point bullets. A majority of Americans are in favor of  restricting bullet magazines so that a mass murderer can only kill ten people before having to reload. Yet when any of these proposals hit the floor, pro-gun groups are in an uproar asserting that any new regulation will result in the government coming to our homes and confiscating our guns.

Let’s think about the logic behind that. If banning assault weapons leads to the government taking away all our weapons, then couldn’t we argue in the reverse that if we allow assault weapons then we should allow any weapons (including nuclear warheads). The Constitution says “right to bear arms shall not be infringed” so I guess I can have nuclear arms and no one can fault me for it.

If you actually read the second amendment in it’s entirety you can see that it’s been misread for quite a while: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The second amendment is the only amendment in the Constitution that states it’s purpose. The right to bear arms shall not be infringed in the context that the arms are used within a well-regulated militia.

You guys don't count.

You guys don’t count.

The Supreme Court, led by “Originalist” thinkers such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have ruled the right to bear arms as an individual right rather than a collective right based on “American Tradition”. In D.C. v. Heller the Supreme Court ruled that a law couldn’t be passed to require guns to be unloaded or bound by a trigger lock when not in use. Scalia and Thomas took part in another decision that ruled against partial birth abortions because of how disturbing the procedure is. I agree with them on that, but they must have failed to consider how disturbing it is to find a toddler’s head blown off because their dad left their gun loaded without a trigger lock in the living room.

It turns out that owning a gun results in much more risk than benefits. Family members living in a house with a gun are far more likely to be victims of gun-related violence. But I am digressing.

The main point is that there are people in the government right now that are trying to propose ways in which we can stem the tide of gun violence in the United States. President Obama recently pointed out that over 1,000 people have died due to gun violence since the Sandy Hook School shooting. Some people may argue that this is just political posturing, but the family and friends of those thousand people would probably disagree. America has a problem and there are people trying to fix it.

I don’t think that American citizens need to have assault weapons. To those who would argue that “we need to match what criminals have” I would argue that America doesn’t need to have shootouts at noon in the town square every time someone tries to do something stupid. I think that everyone should have to go through a background check before buying a gun. To those who would argue that “background checks are inconvenient” I would argue that going to a theater and getting shot before the movie starts is inconvenient too. I think that a magazine should have a limit on the number of bullets it can carry. To those who would argue, “We won’t be able to protect our neighborhoods as well,” I would point out; “Because we do such a good job of that in the first place…”

Let's try to cut down on the violence.

Let’s try to cut down on the violence.

Why It’s Important to Vote (Regardless of Your Politics)

As some of you may know, there’s this thing that happens this November called “elections”. It’s a special event where everyone over the age of 18 gets a chance to vote for the people that they think best represents their interests on the local level, the national level, and the international level. Now there are over 300,000,000 people in the United States, minus those who aren’t old enough to vote (brings it down to 226,000,000) minus anyone convicted of a felony or something (brings it down another 20,000,000) (Source) you have about 200,000,000 eligible voters in the United States, so if you don’t vote this November it’s probably not a big deal right?

Wrong.

You probably like living in America right? It’s the land of the free. You can go cook burgers on the grill while licking an icecream cone without the government telling you to eat your dessert after your meal (like in Usuckistan). You can live your life just about anyway you please. You may be called in to do jury duty some time, but it’s a small price to pay to live in the greatest country in the world. Besides that, voting isn’t really a necessity. It’s not like you rule the country.

…Except that, technically, you do. America is a democratic country, that’s democratic with a lower-case “d” any Tea Party member would tell you it’s definitely not with a capital “D”…

What a clever outfit.

…Which means that the people in charge of our country is us. It is true that the president and the senators and representatives we elect will make the specific decisions that will affect our country, but, in theory, we elected them because we believed they would make the same decisions that we would if we were them. They are our surrogate leaders because we are too busy doing real jobs to devote time to politics.

The power of your vote cannot be stressed enough. In the modern age with super PACs and all kinds of secret monies floating around during elections, it can feel like your influence in politics is nothing compared to big corporations, wealthy individuals and special interest groups. Yet the true genius of the democratic system is that a vote is a great level-er. Your vote on a ballot is just as valid and just as important as Bill Gates’ or the President’s. The phrase “All men are created equal” is never more true than when you put your vote in the ballot box.

As a citizen of a democratic country, you are it’s king or queen. You decide the fate of America. Some people serve America in the military or through foreign relations or as community organizers, but everyone can serve America as it’s leader. Every November your community, your state, and your nation need you. As a citizen, when you neglect to vote, you neglect the country. This is not an obligation for just Democrats or just Republicans, this is an obligation for all Americans. If you can vote, it is your moral duty to vote.

You owe your vote to America’s forefathers who faced death for treason because they gave us the right.

You owe your vote to America’s veterans who laid down their lives to protect the right.

You owe your vote to yourself, because without your vote, you have no right to complain about what happens with the country.

Because, honestly, that’s one of the greatest rights we have!

America the Purple?

Where are the purple mountains?

Seriously, am I just ignorant or something? The song refers to “Purple Mountain Majesties” but where are they? America’s got plenty in the way of amber waves of grain and two shining seas (that are actually oceans), but I find purple mountains nowhere. The Rockies are not purple, nor are the Appalachians. Both ranges are very much white through most of the year.

I Google searched “purple mountains” expecting to find out why someone thought there were some in America, and here’s what I found:

Purple Mountain or Zijin Shan (ChineseZĭjīnshān, lit. “Purple-Gold Mountain”) is located on the eastern side of Nanjing in Jiangsu province, China. It is 447.1 m (1467 ft) high, with the lowest point 30 m (98 ft). Its peaks are often found enveloped in mysterious purple and golden clouds at dawn and dusk, hence its name.”

Oh, so I guess Katharine Bates (writer of “America the Beautiful”) just got her geography mixed up by a few thousand miles. That’s understandable; magical purple mountain ranges in China are commonly confused with America’s not-magical and entirely normal-looking mountain ranges. By the way, the “Purple” mountains look like this…

Wait! They’re not…

But there are other things in the poem that make as much sense as purple mountains. For example: in stanza 2 where Katie Bates is all like:

“O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!”

Firstly, that’s not even catchy. Who’s going to remember that?

Secondly, what is so beautiful about pilgrim feet? They probably stink since they’re in those leathery boots all the time, trudging across the wilderness and getting small pox and whatnot. …Oh, and speaking of small pox…

What do you mean they brought freedom across the wilderness???

Before Pilgrims: This looks free.

After Pilgrims: sad-face.

Okay, sorry, let’s forget about the Native Americans for a second like we have for the past four-hundred years… Maybe the next stanza will be less glaringly historically awkward.

“O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!”

dammit.

“America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!”

The Georgians kicked the Cherokee off their traditional lands in 1830 because there was gold on those lands. I guess they had good reason to do so after all since the gold was refined by God and whatnot. Since “every gain [is] divine” I guess the Cherokee have nothing to complain about. Right?

Okay, so besides trying to rationalize horrid mistreatment of Native Americans, what is this song doing for us right now? I’m not entirely sure. The next stanza talks about “alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!” which either means no one cries in America (which throws the trail of tears into a well of doubt) or it means our cities are going to gleam no matter how miserable the people are, which; judging by my trip to Atlanta, is the case.

Am I missing something? The next stanza repeats the original (and inaccurate) description of the landscape, adding in “enameled plains” which I guess is what you wish you had when your plains get a cavity. The stanza after that repeats the pilgrim stanza. Then the next one has this neat phrase “God shed his grace on thee/ Till selfish gain no longer stain/ The banner of the free!”

I wonder how Bernie “Made Off With Your Money” Madoff would feel about these lyrics…

Maybe the point is in the song’s conclusion. Many songs end with their most important line, kind of like a thesis statement about what they have been trying to tell you throughout the melody. Let’s see…

“America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!”

Oh, jeeze.

Sorry guys.

Katherine Bates (unfortunately not related to actress Kathy Bates) wrote “America the Beautiful” in 1893. She was on a kind of hiking trip with a bunch of teachers and was so moved by the view at the top of Pike’s Peak that she jotted down the first stanza, which most of us remember. She then went back and wrote in all the stuff about white power and greed being good later.

Above: Mitt Romney?

Little did we know that the patriotic song we sung as kids in elementary school was available for negative interpretation. Nor did I know that I could write so much about purple mountains that don’t actually exist.

Coming Out for Equal Rights

So in case you hadn’t heard the big news, President Obama announced yesterday that he fully supports the rights of gay couples to marry. It also turns out that the Earth is round and it orbits the sun. For nearly everyone, this announcement did not come as much of a surprise because unlike all too many politicians, Obama has not constantly been on record saying that marriage is between a man and a woman.

See here.

On the same day as the President’s announcement, you have Rush Limbaugh (the GOP’s resident attack hippo) saying, “We’ve arrived at a point where the President of the United States is going to lead a war on traditional marriage.” It should be pointed out that Rush is an expert in marriage. He’s on wife number four.

So with everyone coming out about, or re-affirming, their views on gay marriage, it sounds like it’s high time I made my view on the matter as clear as crystal.

First, let’s make something abundantly clear: Marriage is not a religious institution. If it were, or if you would like to argue that it is, then pursuant to the First Amendment’s establishment clause, the government has no business on the subject in the first place. Consider the situation objectively. You have two adults who want to be united forever spiritually, they can have a ceremony with all the traditional rites and everything. However, if enough people in the government don’t like the idea of the two being wed, then the couple is told that the wedding doesn’t count. All rights and advantages that are extended to every other married couple in America is denied to them. This couple’s religious views don’t matter to the government, but the politicians’ views are policy that dictate their fate.

…jeeze, kind of sounds like the plot of a dystopian novel, doesn’t it?

Welcome to America.

Marriage is, for all technical purposes, a legal institution. The government has created financial and legal privileges that only married couples are eligible for. The 14th amendment’s equal protection clause states: “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Is it legal for a state to deny marriage rights to one couple while allowing them for another? No.

Gay marriage or civil unions are recognized through nearly all of the Industrialized world. The United States of America is the most glaring exception. While America prides itself on it’s liberty, equality and justice, it perverts all three. By discriminating to the point of denying marriage to people who are in love, the government defiles all that America stands for.

Like a rapist ripping the panties off an unwilling victim, the government’s denial of the right to marry lays America bare, it’s innocence gone along with any principles it had. All that remains is hate, anger and a dream of what could have been rather than what is.

The most disgusting aspect of this desecration is that marriage is not merely a religious right, a moral right, or even an American right. Marriage is a human right. These policy debates have big real-life implications, ranging from additional logistical burdens that complicate adoptions to access to health care that could make the difference between life and death.

There is more than one passage in the Bible that frowns upon homosexuality, but there are many more that frown upon us mortals judging others. No human being has the right to deny life’s most fundamental happiness between two people. Yet here we are.

If two men or two women want to get married, then they deserve that happiness. No rights should be denied to them, no happiness should be barred from them. They ought to be treated like we would want to be treated. If you don’t believe that they deserve the same things as everyone else…
Then I’m sorry,

But you’re wrong.

Yearn for Escape

Sometimes the world becomes so stressful, so rushed and so crowded that you feel as if you are staring at a cluttered desk with so much to do and not enough time. Sometimes expectations pile up like bricks on your chest until you feel like you can’t breathe any more. When it feels like the weekend just can’t come fast enough, or a vacation is just too far off that’s when you need an escape.

Image

Take a look at that picture. I took that last summer when I was off camping in the woods of Maine. By canoeing up the rivers and streams toward Canada my cousin and I found places that seemed utterly untouched by mankind. All around, the only things that could be heard were birds chirping, and the sound of our paddles in the water. I kept my eyes peeled in the hopes that we might see a moose lapping water from the edge of the lake. The breeze was cool and kept us from over-heating as we paddled upriver. The further we went, the further from civilization we got, and eventually no matter where we looked we could find no evidence of mankind.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of peace that comes with being in such a place. We were so far removed from obligations and responsibilities. We entered into a world without requirements, a place with no taxes, no war, no heartbreak. It’s in a place like that, so far removed from society that you can get a taste of what the world was like before we came along.

As I spend day after day working, going to classes, writing papers and studying I am inexorably drawn to thinking of the untamed wilderness of the north where you can taste freedom on the wind. Living in nature would be a great challenge. Yet when confronted by finals week, I find myself if hunting and fishing for survival would be more preferable.

As summer draws near, and my time to return to Maine comes closer, I can’t help thinking about the Maine wilderness, a defiant front by mother nature toward man’s encroachment. As long as the trees still stand, so too will the taste of freedom in the mountain air.

The “Dumbest Generation”

The Millennial generation has been referred to as the “dumbest generation” by Mark Bauerlein he asserts, “Don’t trust anyone under 30”.  What does it say about our society when our predecessors insult the intelligence of a generation that did not elect to spend billions over seas, or fight unnecessary wars, or elect religious extremists to make decisions on what the government does.

My generation will struggle to tread water in a sea of debts, both public and private as far as the eye can see. This reality was not brought upon us willingly. The rusty can was kicked down the road until it hit us in the face. And now we receive the insult to the injury.

The great irony of the “dumbest generation” is that we are also the most tolerant generation. Our lives are not consumed by hate toward an ethnic race or foreign country. We are able to separate religion from politics. When we look up at a  “smarter generation” we see men debating proper sexual habits and how best to stop Americans from getting  universal healthcare rather than how to solve the real problems that plague our society.

If America is a country of dreams, where have they gone? Our churches send food to other countries while our own people starve in the streets. When someone points out the hungry here, they are met with a chorus claiming “the poor don’t work hard enough”.  When the people of New Orleans drowned and starved, our leaders observed the destruction from 20,000 feet. There may be charges lodged that ours is a lazy generation, but if the roles were reversed, you can be sure the city would have gotten all the help it could as fast as was possible.

While past generations elected war heroes and cowboys and men who pretended to be cowboys, the first election the Millennials got to vote in was the first election of a black man to the presidency. Never before had the youth of America mobilized behind a political cause. And how did the rest of the country respond?

In the very next election, those more mature than us came out dressed up as revolutionary war heroes, shot their guns, and installed men and women with extremist views in offices with the sole purpose of stopping any progress that our choice could make.

Already our generation has aided in pursuing a government healthcare system, we have pushed for more aid to higher education, we have demanded equal rights for gays and lesbians, and we want America to work again. But we are hopelessly outnumbered by a generation that thinks we know nothing and who will stand in our way until we become as disillusioned with the future as the stereotyped curmudgeon.

If we allow that to happen, then the “dumbest generation” truly will become the dumbest generation. For we would be confronted with the mistakes of our predecessors, and we would choose to repeat them. If that is our choice, then America will only continue to decline while we kick the can down the road evermore violently into the faces of our children.

At this focal point in American history, the future hinges on us. Will we allow the norm to continue and prove our predecessors correct? Shall we allow the insult to gain accuracy? Or shall we stand together as a group ready to fix America, and make it work the way it can work again?