What I think we need

us-constitution-pdf-logoI frequently see “What we should really do is…” memes, and talk about related things. Some of my most popular posts are related to ‘culture war’ issues like Duck Dynasty and Cliven Bundy. Still, what I think we really need as a people has little to do with these issues directly. That’s because I think they are symptoms of a deeper problem, of certain deficiencies in our laws and oversights in our Constitution which, with 235 years of hindsight, we ought to fix. They aren’t immediately obvious, so they aren’t controversial. They don’t get people juiced up and don’t Rock The Vote, but I think they can really help. Here they are:

Amendment XXVIII (28) [Truth in Politics]

Section 1.

Freedom of speech shall not protect false statements by the President, Vice President, Congressmen, Senators, or any other official appointed or elected within any branch of government or any candidate for such office, for statements made in the public interest or in the course of a campaign to be elected to those positions, except where there is a risk of substantial harm for doing so or substantial risk of revealing state secrets. Issue campaigns; lobbying efforts on behalf of or directed toward public officials or the public as a whole; and support for news media shall be public and transparent; all donations shall be registered with an appropriate body and be in plain view of the public, and be made in a manner that it is clear and unambiguous.

Section 2.

All campaigns for office within the Federal government shall only be funded by the Federal government; no private donations of any kind shall be allowed. The funds for such campaigns shall be divided equally among the Executive and Legislative branch, then equally among the Senate and House of Representatives. Equal funding shall then be given to all candidates for office within the Legislative Branch as are registered by that state’s laws, and who appear on the ballot for office within that state. Candidates must appear on the ballot of a number of states such that the total population of those states is a majority of the national population, or the collective electoral votes is a majority of all electoral votes, in order to receive this funding when they are a candidate for a position within the Executive Branch.

Amendment XXIX (29) [Representative government]

Section 1.

Each candidate for President shall be entitled to choose a number of electors in each state equivalent to the percentage of voters within that state who cast ballots in favor of that candidate.

Section 2.

The House of Representatives shall be drawn from districts that shall themselves be composed of either a whole municipality or a contiguous collection of whole counties. The former shall be used for all municipalities where the population exceeds that state’s number of representatives divided by its whole population. The latter method shall be applied such that their total population is as near as possible to the number of representatives in that state divided by its whole population. When the former is used, an electoral method allowing for multiple winners of a single election shall be used, and applied in a manner that faithfully represents the wishes of as many voters as possible. These districts shall be redrawn by the foregoing rules on a decennial basis, pursuant to the results of the Census.

Amendment XXX (30) [Constraining government abuses]

Section 1.

State secrets shall, when alleged at trial as a defense for the actions of a government actor and as requested by the presiding judge, be revealed by the government to the judge in private, to the extent they are relevant to the events of the trial. If the judge does not meet the qualifications for such, then the case shall be either moved to a more appropriate body if possible, or declared a mistrial. In the case of a jury trial, the judge shall instruct the jury on the disposition and applicability of such secrets if so ordered.

Section 2.

The laws, rights, and procedures within this Constitution shall not be amended or restricted during wartime except through explicit declaration by Congress, and only within and in furtherance of that declared war. Congress may further only declare war against an established nation; all other actions shall be police actions, and shall thereby respect the laws of the nations they occur within if those nations are not subject to a declared war with the United States. When it is reasonable to do so, the rights and protections of the Constitution shall be afforded to all persons interacting with the Federal government, regardless of citizenship status, place of residence or any intrinsic factor.

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Cliven Bundy

Image Copyright belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, with which I am unaffiliated in any way

Image Copyright belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, with whom I am not affiliated in any way

The standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management has been all over the news. As such, there are many, many opinions about it, and just as many misconceptions and misunderstandings. That’s a problem, because ill-informed opinion can turn into tragedy and violence when unleashed into a volatile situation like this. While I’m not so egotistical that I think anyone with deep influence over this situation is listening to me, I nevertheless feel a duty to stand up for truth and the rule of law.

Lets begin with a bit of history.

The area known as the Bunkerville Allotment came into the possession of the United States when it was ceded to us by Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American war. Most of the land in Nevada is still owned by the Federal government, including that area, basically because people didn’t move there and buy it when the Federal government was willing to sell it. As a result, and because Nevada could not afford that much land (and didn’t want to own and therefore be responsible for a bunch of empty desert, anyway), it remained in the hands of the Federal government.

In 1934, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA). It allowed farmers to graze on many areas of Federal lands, provided that they got a permit and paid a fee.

In 1954 or thereabouts, Cliven Bundy and his father began grazing their cattle in the Bunkerville Allotment, paying the fee and keeping up the proper permits to do so.

In 1976, the Federal Land Use Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) was enacted, which superseded the TGA and was designed to put many Federal lands into a multi-use policy, with the general goal of making sure that all of the ways that Federal lands are useful are recognized and protected. This meant that grazing permits were given equal weight to things like recreational or scientific use, or mineral extraction or whatever. Under this Act, the Bunkerville Allotment was classed as “Ephemeral” grazing land, meaning that it only has sufficient forage to be useful as grazing land some of the time. As such, only a limited number of permits are ever granted for use of that land, in order to avoid depleting the forage and permanently reducing the stock available for native animals and whatever other herds need it. At this point, Cliven Bundy was still in compliance with the law.

In 1993, Cliven Bundy decided to stop paying for grazing rights in the Bunkerville Allotment, but continued grazing his cattle there. I’ll let Federal Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson explain what happened next: “On February 26, 1993, Bundy sent an Administrative Notice of Intent to the BLM, which stated his intent to graze cattle “pursuant to my vested grazing rights.” Bundy sent several more Administrative Notice[s] of Intent in the months that followed. On June 16, 1993, the BLM sent Bundy a letter informing him that his application had not been received to graze livestock for the June 15, 1993 to August 31, 1993 period. The BLM included another application for Bundy to fill out and return.” That appears in the 1998 decision that he wrote when the matter went to court. It would not be the last time it went to court.

The legal battle escalated through the mid 90’s, until as I mentioned a second ago it went to court in 1998. The decision can be found here. Essentially, it is that Mr. Bundy’s claim that the Federal government has no claim to that land has no merit, that he and his cattle are trespassing, and he needs to pay the fees that he owed and stop grazing his cattle there. He ignored that order.

Over the next 15 years, Mr. Bundy not only grazed his cattle in the Bunkerville Allotment but also in several new areas, including the Lake Mead recreation area. The BLM took him to court again in 2013 to demand not only that he stop and pay the feed he owed, but that if he didn’t the government had the authority to remove the cattle if they were still in trespass 45 days after the judgment. The decision is here. That was in July of 2013; as you can guess by the news, they only started trying to round up cattle a week or two ago. That is quite a bit past their 45 day deadline.

So there’s that. A few of the legal questions are pretty well settled just by that chronology, but I’d like to deal with the questions directly as well.

1. Who owns the Bunkerville Allotment?

It appears to be a fairly well settled question that the Federal government owns that land. There are no native tribes in that area that might have a prior claim to ownership, so the oldest claim to ownership belongs to Mexico. It ceded ownership to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which like all treaties is signed by the President and ratified by Congress. When Nevada was created, that land was not settled, and so by the terms of Nevada’s admission to the Union, in compensation for the fact that its population was so small (and therefore that it could not supply many soldiers for the Army), that land remained in Federal control. Cliven Bundy implicitly acknowledged this when he paid grazing fees from 1954 to 1993; you don’t pay for the right to graze on land you own. He stopped paying for it and asserted his property rights after he acknowledged that he did not have them, thus when the question was put before a Judge, it was decided that the Federal government owned that land.

2. Which court has jurisdiction over the case?

This is also a fairly well settled question. It is a case against the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Any case where the Federal government is being sued or is suing someone is a Federal case, and has to be decided by a Federal judge. This is called federal question jurisdiction (thanks to my friend Cherry for pointing out that I was misphrasing this earlier tonight). This is stated in Article III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution, which says “The judicial Power shall extend … to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;” The United States is a party, so it is a Federal question. In case there is any doubt, Article VI of the Constitution reads, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” Federal law trumps state law when the two are in conflict, in essence.

3. What actions has the Bureau of Land Management taken to try to resolve the situation?

It communicated with Mr. Bundy through letters throughout the period of 1993 to 1998, as well as serving him several notices. In 1997 the BLM offered to sit down with him and work out the conflict; he refused. In 1998 is got a court order for an injunction requiring him to pay a fine, which he did not pay. In 2013, the BLM got a second court order to seize the cattle if they were not moved in 45 days. More than 266 days later, they started trying to round up his cattle. They didn’t act sooner because, “The government contends it could have impounded Bundy’s livestock, but it took no action because any action could have resulted in physical confrontation.” This was in 1998. The following sentence is also worth noting, “The government has shown commendable restraint in allowing this trespass to continue for so long without impounding Bundy’s livestock.” I think Judge Rawlinson said this because at no point did the BLM actually need a court order to impound his cattle; they were unambiguously trespassing, and therefore the BLM was within its rights to remedy the situation through any reasonable remedy. The FLPMA allows for the impoundment of trespassing livestock, so they never needed to take him to court. They only did, I imagine, to try and avoid what has happened anyway – a physical confrontation.

There are more questions, I’m sure, and I’ll get to them in time but this ought to be enough to combat some of the myths that are floating around about this situation. I feel there’s a larger story to tell about Cliven Bundy himself and his role in this, as well as the role in citizen militias and how this relates to the rule of law, but that will have to wait for another time.

Obamacare saved my life

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has divided America. Town halls, state houses, and news rooms are consumed with the debate over whether it is what we need, and whether it is what we want. None of this matters to me, though, because as strange and unbelievable as it sounds, the Affordable Care Act saved my life.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with an ear infection. It made me deaf in my right ear, but it seemed to resolve itself, so I put it on the back burner. At the time, I was a starving student. In 2007, I became a starving graduate. In 2008, President Obama was elected. Soon thereafter, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. In early 2011, I got a letter in the mail from Blue Cross-Blue Shield. The ACA required my insurance carrier to cover children with pre-existing conditions, but at the urging of Sec. Sebelius they opted to cover all pre-existing conditions on insured persons. This seemed innocuous, but would not stay that way for long.

In December 2011 I discovered that 5 years prior, the doctor called it wrong. What he called an ear infection was actually a large brain tumor, and if I didn’t have surgery immediately I would soon be dead. I was rushed through a battery of tests, and only days later I was operated on by two of the finest surgeons I think one could have. One was the chief of neurosurgery, the other the chief of otolaryngology (“Ear, Nose and Throat” surgery), and their joint operation lasted nearly 16 hours. I lived, but it was a near thing. A less steady hand, a less precise method, and I would be dead right now. After I left the ICU, I saw the bill: more than $1,000,000 before insurance, and about $5000 after.

Without the Affordable Care Act, my insurance wouldn’t have covered the tumor, because it predated my insurance coverage by several years – a pre-existing condition. Without insurance, the hospital would have had no reason to not shuffle me down the street to the state-run charity hospital. Without the the best doctors, the tumor that nearly killed me might have finished the job. For all its flaws, the Affordable Care Act saved my life. When there is talk in Washington of repealing and replacing it, I always ask myself: if that had been done instead, would I be dead right now?

———-

I wrote the above at the request of a friend, as a short opinion piece for a small publication. I realize that there are points within it worthy of a spirited debate, and there are more sides than I present. Five hundred words is not long enough to tell the whole story, but that’s all I had. Was I at fault for not acting sooner (I was without hearing in my right ear for 5 years, after all)? Would it really have been classed as a pre-existing condition, given that it was misdiagnosed? Does the fact that this happened to me counter-balance the other ethical issues, like job losses and disruptions to families, that perhaps happened elsewhere? Is the good that it did for me weight enough to make it good policy, if at the same time it encourages society to move in the wrong direction, if indeed it does that? These are all good questions, and I’m not here to answer them for anyone but myself.

What I know, however, is that even though I think parts of the ACA are less than ideal, even though I think it doesn’t go far enough, I cannot malign the Act itself on that basis. It saved my life. It is costing some people some money, and if that makes their lives difficult or impossible then that’s a bad thing. I sympathize. I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, too, and it’s tough. On the other hand, I’m living, and that means I’m better off than I might be otherwise.

Jake Rush, and the Media as the new Jack Chick

Biased Editing 101

Just today, I saw a news item that hit me in a somewhat personal way. The man pictured above, Jake Rush, is running for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 3rd Congressional district. You might think certain things on seeing the picture on the right – weird, gothic, freak, outcast, deranged, maybe even dangerous – and I’d like to talk about that for a minute, about how the media went WAY into left field, and intentionally so, on this one.

First, this article seemed to start it all. It is from a blogging site in the district in which he is running, it looks like, and the article can be charitably described as a “takedown” piece – that is, one meant to do damage to his public life and Congressional prospects. A more accurate description might be a “nearly slanderous pile of trash.” Several others have followed on Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, The Miami Herald and the Sunshine State News. They have been various shades of unfair or silly, occasionally substantive or useful, but all have suffered from being derivative works based upon the original article linked at the top of this paragraph.

Now, before I go on, I want to dispel some illusions. I am not a supporter of Jake Rush. I don’t like him, I found his behavior in the Camarilla/MES to be various shades of stupid, unfair, immoral or unpleasant, and were he running to be my Congressman he would not have my vote unless his opponent were Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, or the equivalent. He is running to the right of the Tea Party, and I’m somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party, so we don’t get along.

His politics are not what is being attacked, however. His hobbies are, and they are being attacked in a way that very much reminds me of certain tracts I once read by Jack Chick. That man once wrote a pamphlet (that you can find after the last link) called “Dark Dungeons” in which he uncovers the evils of Dungeons & Dragons, how it encourages the occult, devil worship, casting spells, and teen suicide. The rhetoric of Saint Petersblog sinks to this level and stays there. It plays on misconceptions and misunderstandings, perpetuates biases and stereotypes, and mischaracterizes him in the worst way. It’s frankly quite sickening. There ought to be plenty to attack him on without resorting to this sort of rhetoric, and that they have shows at best a certain laziness on their part and at worst an intent to deceive or distract that makes them undeserving of a place in any legitimate news media.

Vampire role-playing games grew out of vampire fiction, and have been a part of the collective imagination for a very long time. Even before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula or Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, the vampire or something very much like it has been a part of the collective imagination. That people should want to explore that, that people should make it their hobby, is not “bizarre” or even noteworthy. The “Twilight Saga,” as groan-inducing as it is in some circles, proves that vampires have a very widespread appeal. Even 50 Shades of Grey, which is not explicitly about vampires, was inspired by vampires because it was originally composed as fanfiction (amateur short stories written by fans, based in the universe or on characters of some popular work of fiction) based on the aforementioned “Twilight Saga.”

If my readers want me to, I’d be happy to break down the (many) factual errors in the Saint Petersblog article about Jake Rush, but I don’t know if the investment of time is worth it right now because it would be substantial. At first blush however, this reminds me somewhat of a certain media explosion in the mid 90s, the Roderick Ferrell case. In this tragic case, a mentally-unbalanced young man carried out several murders in Florida and tried to make it to New Orleans, all under the delusion that he was a vampire. He was insane, clearly, but instead of delving into this fact and understanding that insanity will find an outlet the media examined the question of whether the role-playing game Vampire: the Masquerade was dangerous in and of itself. This assertion is ridiculous, for the same reason that the accusations of Patricia Pulling about Dungeons & Dragons are ridiculous, because so many people who play that game do so little (I in fact played this game, and though some may think me a little weird I think I’m quite sane thankyouverymuch). In fact, I’d be willing to bet a reasonable sum f money that there are fewer people per capita that commit capital crimes and play Dungeons & Dragons or any role-playing game, than who commit capital crimes and watch football or basketball or baseball or soccer or hockey or NASCAR.

If you want to attack the man’s politics, go ahead. To take what he said while playing a character as his own words, however, is the same as judging any Hollywood actor by the things a character of his once said. Would you attack Mel Gibson because of his role in “Payback?” Would you attack Samuel L. Jackson because of his role in “Pulp Fiction?” Would you attack Robin Williams because of his role in “One Hour Photo?” Would you attack Ronald Regan because of his role in “The Killers?” Would you attack Arnold Schwarzeneggar because of his role in “Predator?” I wouldn’t, and I don’t condone it of anyone else.

Attacks like these perpetuate a misunderstanding and a stereotype, and they do great harm to kids all over the country. The very kids who are marginalized, who are “geeks” or “outcasts,” who seek an escape from these games, grow into lawyers and aspiring Congressmen, police officers and military officers, in my case into scientists and engineers. Calling them weird is grade school bullying, and it is unbecoming of adult discourse. Find better reasons to attack him; I don’t doubt they exist. I can even give you a few if you ask nicely. If you don’t alienate everyone he ever associated with in the Camarilla by keeping up this line of attack, I’m sure you’ll find their memories improve greatly and you’ll not have to troll Wikipedia for your character research. So do yourself a favor, Saint Petersblog, and give up on this line of attack.

Charting a Better Path

America has a strained, sometimes strange relationship with science. When science (or scientific findings, at any rate) vindicates what it already roundly believed to be true it is accepted, lauded, and embraced. When those same findings challenge deeply-held beliefs, desires or predilections, that same science is – sometimes the very same scientists are – very swiftly cast aside or turned into a rhetorical pincushion, an example of intellectual elites in an ivory tower who’ve lost touch with the common man. This strand of American anti-intellectualism has been so well studied as to border on cliche, so rather than examining it in detail I’m going to move on. It’s mostly irrelevant to my eventual point, anyway.

Well, I’m an elite. I’m a scientist. I’ve been in the ivory tower, and have done plenty of biological, chemical and genetic research. At this very moment, I’m sitting in a lab working up exactly how much Benzene is in the municipal drinking water of various localities, maybe even yours (hint: basically none, in all probability). I think, even though sometimes people don’t trust science or scientists, that it is still one of the most effective tools we have at making our world a measurably better place, when combined with good policy and unselfish motivations. So lets give it that policy framework and those motivations, I say.

Basically everyone is agreed that the Earth is pretty swell. We live here, and we like taking care of it. We plant trees, we try not to make a mess, and whenever possible we try to find and make better the good things about this pale blue dot we call home. While we may not always (and in fact almost never) all agree as to how, we can at least start with that common ground as out final aspiration and work out from there.

Specifically today, I’d like to talk about food. The way we produce food, in the United States especially, is in many ways really bad. For us, for the environment, for the rest of humanity, it’s just bad. No, not that we make too many GMO crops or not enough organics, or too few GMOs and too many organics. Although I do have an opinion on that, I understand that that’s a controversial issue that is best tackled when we’ve plenty of time to spare on exhausting debates. We don’t have that kind of time today, or at least I am disinclined to having that particular debate right now. No, what I mean is that we use too much fertilizer (organic and conventional farms both do this), we use too much pesticide (organic and conventional farms both do this), we use too many fossil fuels transporting out food halfway round the world, and we produce too much food that too few people can afford (organic and conventional farms both do this), and we have successfully made unprofitable the farming practices that allowed farmers to be responsible stewards of the land for generations (again, organic and conventional farms both do this). That’s turning farming into the province of Agribusiness, of Monsanto. That is a bad thing, for people and the environment, for producers and consumers.

First of all, we need to recognize that farmers fundamentally want to care for the land. The land is their legacy, and is the inheritance they pass on to their children. We need to enable them to be the stewards they want to be, instead of structuring our laws so that they are encouraged to farm in a way that is, over the long-term, unsustainable. Also, we need to structure our laws so that they encourage and enable small farmers to prosper, so that farming doesn’t become the province of mega-corporations who have no inherent interest in environmental stewardship, sustainability, or the common good.

Next, we need to recognize that our good intentions sometimes have really devastating consequences. For instance, you’d think that providing food aid (to Africa, for instance) would be a no-brainer. People are hungry so feed them, right? Unfortunately, as good as those intentions are, it doesn’t quite work out that way. By flying tons of food over to countries who just need a little temporary help, we depress the prices of food in those countries and make it impossible for the farmers there to make a profit. As a result, they are driven out of business. When a country has no farmers of its own other than subsistence farmers, it can’t ever stop being helped with food aid from abroad. Also, it turns out that the fuel cost to fly food around the world is immense. It would be much cheaper in the long run if we could instead spur the growth of local food production, instead of relying on our own food and flying it halfway round the world.

Next, we need to recognize that while we may not have a common preferred means to achieve the goal of sustainable food production, we do have that goal in common no matter where we are or who we are talking to. Very few people indeed want unsustainable agriculture. So instead of focusing in particular on how we get there, just set our destination as a common end point and reward those who get farther along on that path. That way, no matter who ends up being right – GMOs,/GE crops organics, heirlooms, holistic farming, permaculture, polyculture, etc – we’ll have still gotten farther along that path. So no matter who ‘wins,’ we all win in the end. I think we can all agree that that’s a good thing.

But how do we do it? Well, my ideas aren’t perfect, and aren’t an ideal solution, but here are a few of them.

Restructuring farm subsidies:

Currently in the United States, we essentially pay farmers a certain minimum income per acre per year, up to a certain maximum value, regardless of the amount of crops they produce. However, we subsidize crops at different rates per acre depending on what is grown. Unsurprisingly then, farmers tend to plant what the government subsidizes at the highest rate in order to earn the most they can per acre of crops. Then, they plant the same thing next year, and the year after, and the year after, fertilizing the land with synthetic fertilizers as necessary in order to maintain productivity. For the same reason, they use pesticides as much as they need to, to combat the ever-growing number of insects that prey on their crops.

What I’d like to see is that instead of paying farmers a variable amount for the crops they produce, pay them a subsidy based upon producing what we need. In order to see to that, I propose that we create a panel in the Dept. of Agriculture that would be tasked with setting a target each year for the number of tons of each major crop that American farms ought to produce. Then, pay farmers to meet that target. Rely on things like food processors and lobbyists to communicate with this body the needs of those they represent, and have them then use that knowledge to get us to where we need to be. In addition, use farm subsidies to encourage Best Practices in agriculture. For instance –

* Increase the per acre subsidy by 5-10% if a farmer plants a different thing on that acre this year than he planted there last year (crop rotation)

* Increase the per acre subsidy by 5-10% if a farmer uses substantially less pesticide than is typical

* Increase the per acre subsidy by 5-10% if a farmer uses substantially less fertilizer than is typical

* Increase the per acre subsidy by 5-10% if a farmer produces at least three to five different crops in their fields

* Decrease the per acre subsidy by 10-20% if the farm is owned by a corporation worth more than, say, $20 million

Restructuring Food Aid:

One of the other areas that we need to reform is the way we provide food aid to the developing world. Currently, what we do is simple. When a place demonstrates a need for it, we fly food over to that place and distribute it, generally free of charge. While this helps solve the immediate problem of starvation in those areas, it drives local farmers out of business. In so doing, it locks those countries into a cycle of dependency on foreign food aid. Rather than allow that, we need to find a better way to help people when they need help, but also help them to in the long term help themselves.

What I’d like to see is that any time we activate our food aid program, we then appropriate a dollar amount to that program equivalent to the number of tons of food we intend to disburse, according to the local market price of that food. Then, we go into the country and buy their entire crop of food at the market price plus 5%, and whatever money we have left over we instead devote to flying food aid to that country, up to a maximum number of tons that is equated with the needs of that country. Then next year, we do the same thing, and keep doing it until local production is such that we are no longer sending them food aid. At that point their own domestic production will be self-sustaining, and they will no longer need our help.

Those are my initial thoughts. What are yours?

Free Speech

What Free speech is and isn't

Images used to make a point. They are not used to represent any connection with any of the pictured groups or companies, so please don’t sue me.

A friend asked me to expand on some comments I made on Facebook here. As loath as I am to engage in the ongoing battles of the culture wars (a war in which positively everyone loses, I might add), I feel the need to mention one thing. What is happening to Phil is free speech. What he said he said of his own free will, what A&E did they did of their own free will, what the show’s viewers do (whether that number is larger or smaller a month from now) they will do of their own free will. There are no government-sponsored jackbooted thugs who are empowered to enforce the will of GLAAD, nor are there pernicious masterminds with their own craven views of culture driving this whole fiasco. This is just people speaking, and people choosing to respond to that speech.

He said, broadly, that he believes in that section of Leviticus that says that homosexuality is an abomination, that he believes it is treated by the Bible as akin to bestiality, that religions that do not follow Jesus Christ are inferior to religions that do and that those religions/cultures (he appears to conflate the two) promote violence and cultural chaos. I don’t agree with him, personally, in fact I vehemently disagree, but I still feel it necessary to fairly and soberly represent what he said. So, there you have it.

A more coherent and topical discussion of our free speech rights and what threatens them can and should start, though. There are a few areas where the frontiers of these rights are being explored with case law, legislation, and questionably-legal or even explicitly illegal actions. People are and have been talking about things like radio censorship (by which I mean the FCC ‘bleeping’ things or having them ‘bleeped,’ not voluntary boycotts to speech that some dislike) and prosecuting hate speech for basically my entire life, and should keep talking about these things until we find a solution most or all of us can live with. We should also have a national conversation about why we think it’s okay to use pepper spray on peaceful college demonstrations or Occupy sit-ins, or why we feel it’s okay for the NSA to monitor our private conversations without any due process or transparent mechanism of law. We should have these conversations, but if things like Duck Dynasty occupy the bulk of our cultural landscape and news media air time, I doubt we ever will.

What makes me mad about this isn’t just the conversations we’ll never have and the related, much-more-important topics we’re not talking about, it’s also opportunism. For instance, my state’s Governor Bobby Jindal has said some silly things about free speech and whatnot as a response to this. I understand why he spoke up, and it’s really very simple. Duck Dynasty is filmed in Monroe, Louisiana and is highly lucrative. Gov. Jindal has been courting the film industry for at least four years, and wants their business. That A&E might end the show or take actions that imperil its future hurts Louisiana economically and Gov. Jindal politically, then. So, we have his comments. I’m sure he knows they are ridiculous, and most everyone who knows anything about law or common sense knows they are ridiculous, but still he said them. He said them not because they are true, but because this is an opportunity and a risk for him. It is an opportunity to court the Evangelical vote that he sorely needs for re-election (though at this point this may be a pointless exercise for him), and it’s a threat to the economic health of north Lousiana and the Louisiana film industry in general. His comments don’t come then from a place of good policy, responsible governance or common sense, but from political opportunism and fear. I find those to be deplorable reasons for an elected official to speak, and that his behavior will not only be condoned but rewarded makes me even more mad. But that’s the state of politics today, sadly. Both ‘sides’ in this faux dichotomy we call American political life do it with approximately equal efficacy, and will continue to do so until they stop winning elections and making money (in legal donations, mind) that way. Until we a an electorate stop rewarding that behavior, it will continue, and I’m sad to say I don’t see that ending any time soon either.

Gee, this entry is much more depressing than my original Facebook post. I guess that’s the cycle of things, though. Five hours ago I was angry, now I’m just tired and disappointed.

A Beginning

This is the start of something – hopefully, something that will last a while. It is (rather obviously) my blog. It is not about one thing, but many things, because my life is not about one thing nor am I interested in just one thing. Everything from politics to geekery to science to journalism to my own personal journey with some rough topics is going to be covered. Before I get to that, though, I want to tell you some things about me and about this blog that will help you to understand what’s going to come later.

About this blog

As implied by the title and stated by the tagline and as already stated by me a couple of times now, this blog is not just about one thing. The things it is about are broken into a few categories, which are listed below. Posts will probably come every few days, sometimes more sometimes less. I will endeavor to split the posts into a couple of types. Opinions and comments are just that – my opinions or comments on issues, unsourced and unvarnished, though I will endeavor to make them valuable, thoughtful, and meaningful to you as best I can. You are free to disagree, with either my views or with whether I’ve achieved my goals in presenting them to you. I welcome disagreement, and I’m never absolutely sure of anything, so as long as you’re not just trolling I welcome opinions and comments on my opinions and comments. That’s what the internet is about, after all. Articles are researched, sourced analyses of some topic of particular importance, written after the fashion of the articles I’m used to reading (as I cover below, my education is as a molecular biologist). I’m going to go out of my way to use plenty of sources and to use them in such a manner that you can check them out for yourself whenever possible, and so say so when it is not. In exchange for that, I ask that you read my writing with an open mind, check my sources, and if you still disagree then to speak to the evidence or address its shortcomings in your disagreement. Finally, analyses are detailed looks at one or a small number of items, such as a news story or article on some other site or blog or something. They obviously have at least one primary source, the one upon which I’m making my analysis and which will always be linked if possible, but may have more if I feel it necessary to make my point. So, that said, the main topics of this blog are as follows:

  • Politics: I am interested in a number of political topics, and those topics will probably make up a substantial number of posts on this blog. They aren’t restricted to any one area, since I have about equal interest in economic issues as pro-democracy reform as foreign affairs as  other areas. I’ll talk about them all as the fancy suits me, and try to keep the screaming to a minimum. I really don’t like screaming, and I’m tired of it dominating American political discourse. I’d like to do what I can to change that, however small or practically nonexistent the change ends up being.
  • Geekery: I’ve been a geek for a long time. I started playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons when I was 8 years old, and have been ever since. I started video games on the likes of Kings Quest, Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Doom, and others. Right now, I only really play a few – World of Warcraft and Guild Wars II being chief among them. I still play Dungeons & Dragons, now in its 4th edition, and run it as well. I’m developing a role-playing game of my own, and am hopefully soon to start playing in Dystopia Rising. So as far as nerd culture goes, I’m pretty deeply embedded. I hope you’ll enjoy sharing my view from time to time.
  • Science: As I said a minute ago, my primary training is in molecular biology. I went into that field because I’m interested in science, because the living world fascinates me, and because I think that science will, already has, and continues to save the world. Because of that, from time to time I will share science that I find really neat, or will cover some topic that is widely misunderstood. This could be GMOs or particle physics or evolution or something else; whatever it is, I’m going to try to cover it in a tone meant for non-scientists, that explains, educates, and helps you appreciate just why I think that thing is just so darn cool. It also might be worth mentioning here that two or three jobs ago, I taught Biology and Physical Science for the Jefferson Parish Public School System.
  • Media: While I find science damn cool, I find science reporting to often be far less cool. It is uninformed, uninformative, and sometimes downright wrong. Other kinds of reporting are no better, often times. Occasionally I will find something worth sharing as-is, but it seems lately that more often than not a popular story needs a rider or some contextual or clarifying information alongside it in order to truly understand what’s going on. These posts will focus on doing just that, on analyzing and improving on and pointing out articles that are either just plan right or just plain wrong. I’ll try to keep it fairly limited, though, because you really could go on forever with analyzing the constant stream of words produced by the media.
  • Religion: In America, religion is part of public life. It touches our every day lives and affects things from public policy and law to foreign relations to Thanksgiving dinner. This widespread impact, and my own unique perspective on religion will frame the handful of posts I have on this topic. I don’t talk about it very much in comparison to the last few topics, but it will probably be mentioned and it certainly is, for the reasons noted above, worth mentioning from time to time.
  • Recovery: A little less than two years ago as of this writing, I was diagnosed with a kind of brain tumor called an acoustic neuroma (or alternately, a schwannoma). It had made me deaf in my right ear, and subsequently caused a host of other symptoms. Its removal caused some more side effects, including the temporary inability to walk, talk, eat, or move the right half of my face. Posts on this topic will be personal tales and comments on my recovery from this, dealing with the remnant symptoms and therapy and such.
  • Louisiana: I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Some posts will be about life and issues centered on the city or the state, local politics or religion or any of the other categories listed above. In that respect it is really a meta-category, encompassing all of the other categories within it.

About me

In order for you to understand where I’m coming from on any of the above, it would help you to know a bit about me. I’m going to keep this fairly short though, so that you’re not just inundated with information about me.

I’m Luke, a 30 year old lab analyst from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My views on politics are downright progressive, much more so than you’d think from where I live. I am also a Buddhist, waffling between a couple of different varieties and mostly in solitary practice. My training is primarily in molecular biology and genetics, and I’ve previously worked both in academic research about genetic regulation and in industry doing work on environmental and industrial analytical chemistry. My posts all come from that bias, and you should consider that in reading them, but those basic elements are just a short-hand as my particular views and life experience are much more complicated and nuanced than that. For instance, while you might think I think the opposite from reading the above, I support capital punishment in some instances and think that the world is much larger and more complex than a purely mechanistic explanation can possibly convey. I am not unchanging, though, so these statements may mean nothing a year from now.

This blog is called the “Renaissance Millenial” for the simple reason that I am a millenial (sort of, kind of, depending on who you ask – I was born in 1983), and I cannot manage to devote myself to one thing. Instead, I’m more of a Renaissance man, focused on writing and role-playing as well as science, politics, religion, and other topics. I posed a question to my friends on what they liked about my writing, and they didn’t come to a consensus, so I decided to dedicate this blog to my diverse interests and to turn it into a platform for expressing those interests to you. With that in mind, I hope you’ll find it useful.