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Posts Tagged ‘negative’

Mary Wollstonecraft, an acclaimed 19th century writer and activist, once said, “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.” In everyday life, I believe this is largely true. We give in to the yearnings of either lust or money (and, really, there is very little difference) and Hell follows. A few years ago, one of the richest men in the United States was interviewed after throwing a magnificently overdone party which cost more than most Americans earn in a year. He was so wealthy, and had been for so long, that he had lost track of what he owned, forgetting cars, houses, jets, entire businesses… When asked what he could possibly still want, he answered simply, “More of everything.” Now, I don’t consider that evil – offensive and nauseating, but not evil per se – but I think it is that kind of runaway greed and self-indulgence that leads to evil things.

So why all this talk about evil? Well, I believe evil begets evil. The more bad stuff that’s going on the world, the easier it is for even more bad stuff to happen. A negative feedback loop, if you will, where the situation gets progressively worse with every trip around the loop. Or, say, sun. But it’s an intensely difficult system to change, not one you can easily knock off balance once it has some momentum. And momentum, unfortunately, has never been the problem.

Humans are easily manipulated, panicked, frenzied. A few well-placed hoorahs can put a man in power, or leave him dead in the street. We have quick tempers, long memories for grudges, and a lust for vengeance. But we are also quick to forget treacheries that did not involve us directly, and we easily swallow lies as long as our standard of living remains acceptable. We have the intelligence to fabricate fantastic weapons able to produce the heart of a star on the surface of our own planet … but not enough intelligence to accept peace. We are an interesting but dangerous species, classified as a mammal but with all the trademarks of a virus. What we need is a vaccine.

A vaccine does not kill a virus. Instead, it prepares the host for the potential of a battle with a virus. It posts guards and rallies the troops, if you will. Then, if the virus later infiltrates, the host is prepared and the virus is controlled before any damage is done. The battle is averted. The war is won, essentially, before it’s begun. And the trouble-making virus isn’t really destroyed. It is incorporated into the host, becomes a peaceful part of it, and its antibodies survive as long as the host lives. That way, if another faction of the virus invades, it can also be quelled before war breaks out. This is exactly what we need. The trouble, with humans and vaccines, is that they only succeed on one issue at a time.

As a species, I’m not sure where we’re headed. The utopian society envisioned in the early 20th century never materialized. The Jetsons are as far away as ever. As long as we keep focusing on material goods and indulgent comforts, it will probably stay that way. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with wanting a decent house, a reliable vehicle, or three squares a day. But it’s hard to work toward political stability, reduced international tensions, and peaceful resolutions when all you can think about is “more of everything.” It’s important that we not let the pursuit of perceived happiness lead us down the wrong road, toward decisions with irreversible consequences and no redeeming outcome in sight.

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The blog is now back up and running, with it’s usual unpredictable schedule.

And to start off a new year, a new infringement on our rights. Unless you were buried in an avalanche for the last two weeks, you’ve heard about the purported “underwear bomber” (who, luckily, managed only to injured himself) on Christmas Day. This sent airlines and government agencies into a frenzy of bad judgement and over-reaction. So what’s new, you ask? Well, it’s not so much what’s new as what is on-going … namely the hacking away of our constitutionally amended rights. Including our right to privacy (specifically, the fourth amendment; the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures). In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m talking about the full-body scanners. (Yes, it’s a much-discussed topic at the moment, and I’m just going to have to throw my two cents in as well.) And in case you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m not a supporter.

Let me preface the heart of this by saying that I do not wholly oppose the full-body scanners. I support them as an option to the current metal detector screening process. I do not support them as a mandate and the only alternative to full-body pat-downs.

First of all, even the most effective scanner is only effective against those it actually scans. Full-body scanners were in use and available in the Amsterdam airport where the (alleged) bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded his flight for the United States. They certainly didn’t ward him off from a distance or go red alert as he walked into the terminal. He wasn’t suspected of criminal intent, and so he wasn’t scanned. It seems a person-by-person scanning process is as time-consuming as the metal detector queue (or moreso) so airports that do use the scanners do so with passengers who volunteer, or with passengers at random, or when someone rouses suspicion. Which Mr. Abdulmutallab did not.

Obviously, random screenings are hardly worth the effort; we would likely be as safe employing lie detectors. Because even at the absolute best, the penultimate of body scanning proficiency, it is no more effective than a metal detector and a full-body pat-down … because anyone can forego the scanner if they choose. So why the trouble and expense if the results are no different than the original conditions? Abdulmutallab’s “accessories” wouldn’t have been any easier to detect than when he went through screening at Amsterdam. And while I bet the TSA would gladly strike down that ability to choose between the scanners and the pat-down, I don’t believe it would pass legislature in the near future; it is not accepted widely enough for that. In fact, several European nations – including Belgium, Spain, Germany, and France – remain unimpressed with the scanners and unconvinced they are necessary.

According to the travel website Jaunted, the scanners are currently used in only 19 U.S. airports (listed at the bottom of this post), though the TSA intends to roughly quadruple the number of working scanners in 2010. Of course, that’s just in the States. Hundreds of international airports offer direct flights to U.S. soil … so getting everyone up to speed would be a multi-year, multi-billion dollar, multi-national project. That sounds quite easy. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, and did I forget to mention the fact that these scanners aren’t exactly accurate? How clumsy of me. Although the scan images are clear enough to violate child pornography laws, they show nothing under the skin, between sections of skin, or in orifices. Which means would-be terrorists still have plenty of options and the body scanners are, at best, mediocre in their results. Multi-billion dollar, multi-national mediocrities. Feel safer yet?

All that aside, there is still the fact that these scanners are designed to essentially strip-search thousands of innocent, law-abiding passengers (although that number will quickly rise to millions if the TSA has anything to say about it). Shouldn’t that fall somewhere under “unreasonable searches?” Especially considering you are more likely to be struck by lightning than injured in a terrorist attack in the United States. Quick, outlaw clouds! Jail anyone in possession of kites and keys! Strip-search the occupants of all vehicles and households for the presence of positive and or negative ions!

It’s ridiculous, and luckily not yet law. In fact, last summer the House of Representatives passed legislation limiting the use of the full-body scanners. But the Senate never took it up, and with Obama’s conference on airport security, I don’t expect those limits to stand long. However, what bothers me most is the American response. Countless authors of article comments and forum posts agree: “I’ll do anything the government wants if they say it’ll make me safer.”

Except we aren’t any safer. It doesn’t matter if there’s a full-body scanner on every street corner, it’s not improving the safety of passengers nor reducing the likelihood of a terrorist attack. Get over your sexually repressive phobias, supporters say, it’s just a quick naked peek and off you go, safe and secure, without even having to take your jacket off. But we aren’t any safer or more secure, and this isn’t about being digitally naked. This is about government officials wanting to mandate needless and ineffective infringements on personal freedoms protected by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. It is the continued ruination of the singlemost important document protecting citizens’ rights which the government is supposed to answer to. Terrorists win because we allow them to win. It has nothing to do with the number of people they kill, or how they kill, or where or when. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Which basically translates to scaring people to force their choices or circumstances. Which the U.S. government is doing bloody brilliantly to its own people. What more could terrorists hope for?

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
– Benjamin Franklin

The following airports currently use (or allow the option of) full body scanners:
(ABQ) Albuquerque International Airport
(ATL) Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport
(BWI) Baltimore-Washington International Airport
(DFW) Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport
(DEN) Denver International Airport
(DTW) Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport
(IND) Indianapolis International Airport
(JAX) Jacksonville International Airport
(LAS) Las Vegas-McCarran Airport
(LAX) Los Angeles International Airport
(MIA) Miami International Airport
(PHX) Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport
(RDU) Raleigh-Durham International Airport
(RIC) Richmond International Airport
(SLC) Salt Lake City International Airport
(SFO) San Francisco International Airport
(TPA) Tampa International Airport
(TUL) Tulsa International Airport
(DCA) Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport

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This is still a fresh and highly contentious subject so please navigate away from this page after the following paragraph if it is too sensitive a subject for you. My thoughts are often … unconventional … and though I certainly mean no disrespect some things I say could be potentially hurtful to others. Please beware.

George Sodini was responsible for the deaths of three women and the injury of several others recently at a gym in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. He left writings that outlined his plans and general attitude toward life. His last actions were terribly violent and should not be dismissed. These are my compiled notes on George Sodini and my thoughts on his life.

On paper, and even on video, George seemed like a very ordinary man. He worked an ordinary job, drove an unremarkable vehicle, and lived in a perfectly normal house. But he lived there alone and this seemingly led to (or was caused by) some of his personal issues. According to his purported “blog,” he had not been in a relationship since 1984 and had not slept with anyone since 1990. If said “blog” is genuine, it provides quite a peek into a disturbed mind.

The very first entry is studded with spite and dark sarcasm. Further entries blend melancholy, irritation, and disbelief with a perpetual foundation of frustration. “Result is I am learning [life] basics by trial and error in my 40s,” he wrote. “Seems odd, but thats true. […] Too embarassed to tell anyone this, at almost 50 one is expected to just know these things.” Later, describing his mother as a controlling, overbearing woman, he laments, “Why are people vicious with their closest ones?”

It feels almost like there are two different men writing. One is wholly negative, calling younger women “hoes” and stating that he will always be alone. But there is another man, a positive force who tries to hope that things will improve. The trouble is that the negativity always seems to win the argument. “Writing all this is helping me justify my plan and to see the futility of continuing. […] No matter how many changes I try to make, things stay the same.”

But those jumbled, sometimes resentful paragraphs help flesh George Sodini out as a real person, a living, breathing person who made a terrible, terrible choice. They portray a man who is tired of being alone but has no clue how to change. They show how out-of-control his life felt, and how he was convinced he was a total and utter failure as a human being. He seems to be saying, “Everywhere I look people have their shit together. They are getting married, are in relationships, are having kids… What is wrong with me that I am not? Why doesn’t anyone feel remotely interested in me?” None of the entries sound “crazy” or even demonstrably unstable until he mentions having “chickened out” of his plan with the guns in his gym bag. Until that point, he just sounds lonely, possibly depressed. Suddenly the post reveals him to be homicidal, suicidal, unexpectedly dangerous and seemingly without remorse for his intended victims. “God have mercy,” was his only remark.

“I already know what the problem is, but a solution eludes me,” he said months later. He attended church for many years and apparently didn’t want to go to Hell for seeing through this “exit plan” but had been assured such actions would not necessarily damn him. “[P]astor Rick Knapp … teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. […] I think [he] did the most damage.” And though he did not consider the “exit plan” a real solution, it seems he could not identify a better option. Why he chose the gym one can only guess. Why his anger was funnelled into a murder spree instead of just a suicide is a mystery. But it seems odd that he would do such a thing when his words indicate that he did not hate women but their (real or imagined) rejection of him and the loneliness which followed.

His words show a man who felt lost and without hope that things would ever change. Expounding on a radio talk show caller, George wrote, “It is the quality of life that is important, he said. If you know the past 40 years were crappy, why live another 30 crappy years then die? His point was they engage in dangerous behavior which tends to shorten the lifespans, to die now and avoid the next 30 crappy years.” He had been recently promoted and liked his new boss, even found his new duties more rewarding. And yet he led a joyless life, ultimately punctuated by the shooting of innocent strangers.

I compiled all these notes and thoughts with one basic goal: to try and understand a man who felt so hopeless that he would take out his frustrations in the deaths of others and then kill himself. Many call him a blatant misogynist but I believe that falls well short. Others have labeled him “psychotic” and “psychopathic” and while I’m not sure that quite covers it, either, I think it is closer to the truth.

Psychopaths are mentally unimpaired but nonetheless engage in self-defeating acts. Often unable to delay or defer gratification, they are prone to impulsiveness, sometimes violence, and are often coupled with an inability to learn from past mistakes. Roughly one percent of the general population are psychopaths. A recent study at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London found that “psychopaths who kill and rape have faulty connections between the part of the brain dealing with emotions and that which handles impulses and decision-making,” according to a Reuters article. The findings were based on a small test group and is expected to be studied further. “As well as finding clear structural deficits in the tract in psychopathic brains,” the article continues, “they also found the degree of abnormality was significantly linked to the degree of psychopathy.”

Which makes sense. The less functional the brain, the more abnormal the behavior of the host. Which opens up a whole new bag of worms. If a brain isn’t functioning properly, how responsible is the host for its actions?

George Sodini decided to take three guns into a gym and shoot people. He decided to turn the last gun on himself and end his life. These were things he chose to do and which cannot be excused. But I wonder how much of the circuitry that led him to that choice was faulty, how much it interfered with his impulses and decisions. I wonder about the other one percent of psychopaths trying to live among us while their brains unknowingly mislead them. It is such a cruel and unpredictable world when the very thing that filters the world around us and keeps us going quietly betrays us.

I am reminded of a quote from Plato:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

If you’d like to read George Sodini’s “blog” for yourself, you can find it here.

And one parting thought … why did George Sodini turn out the lights before he started shooting? Some called it cowardly, insinuating that maybe he could not face the people he killed as he killed them. We will never know for sure, but I like to think differently. He could have hit many, many more of those women if the lights had been on. I like to think it was perhaps a last act toward decency, that if he could not or would stop himself from carrying through with his plan, he could at least try to give them a better chance by firing into the dark.

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