Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

And now for something completely different

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I love British bathrooms.

There, I said it and I’m glad.

Before I explain why British bathrooms are superior to those in the US, let me first do some level setting.

I’m not a rabid anglophile. I do appreciate much of the history, though only from a military perspective. I like Dr. Who but I’m not a rabid fan. I love Sherlock Holmes. That’s it, no qualification around that, I love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collective works and don’t care who knows it. So while I do appreciate some things British, I never had an overwhelming desire to travel there any more than anywhere else with the exception of Africa. Sorry Africa, but while you have a lot going for you, if I wanted to be hacked to death or burnt alive, I’d insource that job domestically and go to Detroit.

To be fair, as a child it never occurred to me that travel was even in the cards for me beyond the occasional trip to Wisconsin and the dream of some day seeing the Twin Cities. I dreamt of being Spiderman, knowing it was a dream. The cruel truth of economics and logistics prohibited me from dreaming of things I thought were firmly out of my reach. So England became no different than Narnia. Places I read about, but as far as I was concerned, I had a better chance of finding a portal in a wardrobe.

Then I grew up and achieved more than I thought possible. I dared to dream of cruises and foreign travel. England, Scotland and Ireland were at the tope of my list. So my company sent me to India in 2006. What I found is that except for the jetlag, I liked it. Two jobs and a bunch of travel later, I finally arrived in the UK for the first time.

This is my third trip and all have been for business. I haven’t been able to do many tourist activities, but I have seen a few sites. I did get to see the relatively new 221 B Baker street museum and gift shop. I did get to see Big Ben from a taxi window. Those were cool, I won’t lie, but they pale in comparison to my greatest UK discovery, the British bathroom.

For those of you that have never traveled between these two countries, let me explain. The entire bathroom isn’t necessarily superior, though most have a better design. The key feature that makes them superior are commode the stalls. Urinals are about the same, though the Brits do seem to space them out a bit more and have better dividers. I’ve also never seen a sink design in the UK with a flat counter top and over pressured faucets that cause water to pool so that when you lean forward to wash your hands or check something in the mirror, the water absorbs into you pants in the groin region.

While not all British bathrooms are so well equipped, I have to share this pic of a this brilliant vending machine that takes care of all of the man's and woman's needs and manages to address some of the most common excuses as well.






If only they had these a century before, though I'd rather not meet the man or woman that needs the giants 100 pack of tic tacs.




And now back to my story.


First I’ll describe the British stall. Have you ever heard the term “water closet”? Well, that is appropriate, because each stall is a small room with a solid door and no gaps or cracks. It shuts and you have true privacy. I’ve been in a few now and they don’t skimp on wall thickness either. The guy next to me could be suffering from a trip to Chipotle, but I would not hear his screams. Added bonus feature in case you’re not sure of the door is shut by accident, most have a lock on the inside that triggers an “Occupied” sign on the outer door similar but not quite like they have on airplane bathrooms.

The US stalls on the other hand are poorly crafted from sheet metal and painted horrific colors. They are designed poorly and quickly thrown up so most have larger than planned gaps and are about 18 inches off the floor and top off around six feet high, leaving plenty of gap before you reach the ceiling. Because of poor alignment, many of the flimsy slide locks do not fully seat and a large percentage open when any of the connected walls are bumped.  Worse, since almost all of them shut as their default position, you have no way of knowing if they are occupied by looking at the door. There are several slick moves used by men across America so we aren’t mistaken for some pervert trying to catch a look. There’s the quick duck down to look for feet, but this move is rarely done when someone is at the sink or at a urinal. You can walk by as if uninterested and glance quickly through the ½ inch wide crack to see if there is a shape in the gloom. A more patient person can hang back by the door and listen for movement or breathing, but if detected that might only narrow it down to one of the two being occupied, not definitively identify which one.

Desperate or impatient men just grab hold of the door and pull. This only works if it is empty. If not and the lock miraculously holds, most occupants feel the need to say something like. “I’m in here” or “be done in a minute”, as if the locked door weren’t a giveaway. Sometimes the door gives and you’re face to face with someone in one of several stages of completion.

You may argue that the British method is more expensive, but I challenge that assumption. Post construction work would be, but if it were part of the plan, the increase per building would be negligible. We broke away for many reasons over two hundred years ago, but we have bonded since then and it’s high time we recognize we can still learn from our brothers and sisters across the sea. I call on all of my fellow American’s to rise up with me and demand a better bathroom experience.

Who’s with me?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Marriage Equality

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For the record, since some that read this would have no way of knowing, my disclaimer is that I am straight and married.

The title of this blog post is Marriage Equality, but it’s really just about Equality.

There are those that oppose marriage equality and claim that it's on the grounds of their religious beliefs, specifically referring to the Christian bible. The problem with claiming that you are against marriage equality because of your Christian faith is that it is contradictory to Christ’s teachings and it does make you a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy is part of the human condition. Few people that act hypocritical are aware of it at the time. It’s something I’ve tried to avoid but I’m painfully aware that I’ve been guilty of this in the past and will likely fall into this trap again. I will continue to strive to avoid it and do some reflection when it’s pointed out to me.

I don’t believe that changing your mind is hypocrisy. If you have a firm opinion at 20 and through investigation or reflection or perhaps by someone presenting new information or old information in a new light and you change your opinion at 21 or even 40, I don’t believe that makes you a hypocrite.

What makes you a hypocrite, is saying you believe one thing and then without stating a change in opinion, you do another. Hypocrisy is especially obvious when a person puts forth their opinion, acts contrary to that opinion and then states the opinion again, especially when casting judgment on the conduct of others.

With regards to the issue of homosexuality, you have two choices:

Either you believe being Gay is a choice, and since it is called out in the Old Testament as an abomination it is a sin.

Or,

You believe people are born gay in which case it is not a choice but how god made them and can’t be a sin.

Let’s assume you fall in the first example and you use the bible to argue against marriage equality. The odd thing about this is that despite it being the Old Testament, I don’t hear people of the Jewish fail making this claim. Christians fall under the New Covenant and have since the resurrection of Christ. The Old Testament is no longer binding. And while the Old Covenant held to the letter of the law, the New Covenant holds Christians to a higher standard by requiring them to meet the Spirit of the New Testament. So before Christ, you were only in trouble if you killed someone as it would violate one of the 10 Commandments, while after the Resurrection, you are now in trouble even if you spend night and day wishing someone were dead even though never act on the impulse.

Speaking of the Ten Commandments, let’s just say you’re old school and want to cleave to that old Covenant. Thou Shalt Not Be Gay is not one of the Ten. I’ve read through them and it’s a pretty good list of things you shouldn’t do if you want to be a functioning member of society. Then there are the Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy and Gluttony. Nope, being gay is not one of the seven.

While we’re on the topic of sin, if you are a claiming to be a Christian, then you know that there are two types, venial (or minor) and mortal (which are pretty serious). Most Christian scholars claim that homosexual thoughts or urges would be venial, while acting upon those urges would be mortal. Why? Two reasons. First, that it is sex that occurs outside marriage, and second, that the specific act is considered unnatural.

The first is a catch 22, since if we allow homosexuals to marry then it will no longer be a sin to have sex with your spouse. The second one is pretty straight forward, but guess who else commits unnatural sexual acts? Anyone that does anything besides Missionary Position, that’s who.

I think this is the part where we quote the big guy himself:

John 8:7 “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Or how about this oldie but goodie:

Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

Matthew 7:1 is the perfect segue to my next point. Even if you believe and can prove once and for all beyond a shadow of a doubt that homosexuality is a sin and those that practice it are going to hell, it is none of your (what for it) fucking business!

A person’s relationship with whatever god they do or do not believe in is a personal one. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s not your job to stop people from sinning. If it was, you should start with the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. When you manage to stop committing them yourself and manage to get the rest of the world to stop committing those, you can take on Homosexuality. In fact, let’s agree that it is #18 on the list. Go fix 1 through 17 and come back and talk to me.

But hey, let’s pretend that you have completed that miracle and you want to tackle #18. Even if you get to that point, you have no business trying to enforce your religious beliefs on others through the law of the land. Their soul is their business, what we are talking about is public policy.

The United States of America was not founded on Christian freedom. It was founded on religious freedom. Some people forget that. The constitution is there to protect people from your oppressive views just as it is there to stop others that may want to interfere with your right to worship Christ.

I know that’s a tough concept for some people, but you need to deal with it. People have the right in the USA to believe whatever they want to as long as those rights don’t infringe upon the rights of others. This could occur if some devil worshiper claimed sacrificing another person was a religious right. No, sorry but that crosses the line and impinges on the other persons freedom to live.

Our Constitution also claims that all people are created equal. We know that isn’t true. Blacks were 3/5ths for a long time and women only got the right to vote in 1920. The law is not always compassionate, but Christianity is supposed to be. It’s kind of a requisite for being a Christian unless you are a Hypocrite.

But it’s even worse than that. We aren’t just talking about some random public policy issue. Using any argument to fight against marriage equality allows an environment of intolerance to flourish. By not recognizing homosexuals as equal members of society, we allow some people to see them as inferior, just as blacks and women were seen as inferior and still are by some. I consider it counter to Christ’s teachings to allow a group of people to be treated as less than human. Whether you like it or not, you are actively contributing to the creation of the hostile environment where others, that also see homosexuals as inferior find it acceptable to take violent action against them.

You may lull yourself to sleep by convincing yourself that you are just against marriage equality for personal and religious reasons, but you are lying to yourself if you deny that you are actively contributing to a climate of hate and violence. Only through acceptance and equality, can we stop the cycle of violence. If you claim to be a Christian, you have no other choice than to stop the oppression of homosexuals. Your loud and angry voices only add fuel to the fire. They give strength to those that strike the blows in the USA and abroad. The intolerance and cruelty that translate into the culture of intolerance and hate is fueled by your words and deeds. It emboldens cowards to brutalize those they see as less than human and worse you manage to convince some people when they are young that they are less than human and unworthy to the point where they kill themselves.

Do you feel proud of these acts of violence? Do you truly believe that you are in no part responsible for these heinous acts?

For my part, I was never homophobic. Despite that fact that I am not a good Christian, I was raised to believe that people have a right to pursue happiness as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. In my twenties, I was ambivalent to the LGBT cause because I didn’t see how it affected me and I personally had nothing against them. If it was brought to a vote, I would vote for their equality, but it wasn’t something I gave much thought to. I felt that because I saw them as equal under the law and morally, I had the high ground and that was enough.

It took the violent actions and cruel laws passed in Russia for me to wake up to the fact that being on the side lines when it comes to equality for all people is not a justifiable position. I’m not sure why it took me until I was 47 to have this epiphany, but it isn’t good enough to simply stand idly by. Edmund Burke was right, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We can update that quote to ‘good people’.

Does this mean that I’m going to start marching in LGBT parades? No. I hate parades, always have. What will I do? Try to change minds by posting up a blog on the subject, teach my children love and tolerance of those that are different from themselves, when given the opportunity respectfully debate the issue with someone that I think is salvageable and vote out politicians that contribute to the culture of hate and intolerance.

Is that enough? I don’t know, but it’s better than nothing.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Call Bullshit

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There has been a lot of political rhetoric on the Internet in the last few weeks around Syria. The latest is this poster. Read it and let it sink in.



I’ve had enough and I have to call bullshit. First, let me make it clear I think we need to stay the hell out of Syria. I will explain why later, but let’s start with the fallacious argument laid out in this pithy poster.

Using Benghazi as a basis for a reason why Obama shouldn’t interfere in Syria, is bullshit. And this is all about Obama, not whether or not the US should get involved in Syria. Everything is partisan these days and that’s the problem. When we talk about putting US troupes in harms way, we need to drop the political party bullshit and do what’s right for the USA.

There were 12 attacks on US Consulates while Bush Jr. was President resulting in 60 deaths. Some of those deaths were even US citizens. Clearly, no one gives a shit if some foreigners working at our Consulates die, or they’d bring up the attack on the Peshawar, Pakistan Consulate in 2010 when 8 people died. But those dark faces don’t make as compelling of a poster as the 4 US white faces in the Benghazi tragedy. But to pretend that Obama doesn’t care about the deaths of the American’s in the Benghazi tragedy implies that Republicans do care. This is blatantly false since neither side raised the issue of any of the previous attacks, of which there have been plenty resulting in a lot of deaths of both American and non American people working in those Consulates.

Besides the Consulate attacks, Bush Jr. also got us into two wars that to date have resulted in the deaths of 6,756 US War Fighters. The total casualties are slightly higher than that but clearly we don’t give a shit about the deaths of our allies either. Fuck them until we need their support to go do some more killing, and then they are pussies unless they back us, right?

By the very fact that all of these deaths are completely ignored in context of the Benghazi outrage, it is clear that the deaths of the 4 American’s isn’t the driving force behind this obviously political attack.

Try fitting 6,756 young faces on a poster if you want some outrage. The largest percentage of these deaths occurred in Iraq. Between the two wars, even some of the more liberal democrats out there have agreed that we needed to face our enemy in Pakistan. Remember our enemy? Al-Qaeda and the Taliban? The ones that attacked us on 9/11/2001? There was no Al-Qaeda, Iraq link. There were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. When that became clear, what did the Republicans fall back on? They brought up the fact that Saddam Hussein was an evil bastard because he gassed his own people. Sound Familiar?

Now that a democrat in the White House is trying to use military force against an evil bastard that gassed his own people, the Republicans are going batshit crazy. I guess Obama should claim there are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Syria. Guess what, there ARE. Sarin is defined as a WMD, and we now have proof that they have it and used it. Actual proof, not some bullshit lead from the CIA that didn’t pan out and was so weak not even a liberal rag like The New York Times wouldn't have run with the story until they had a more reliable second source. But so what? WMDs do exist in countries outside of the United States and we will never get rid of them all. Deal with it.

Just in case you think this is some rant from some anti war liberal, the Republicans aren’t the only hypocrites. It just so happens that with Obama in the White House, their hypocrisy is just more obvious because they are on the attack.  The Democrats and their completely unbiased news agencies (we really need a sarcasm font) made every casualty during the Bush presidency a news story. Death toll stories ran monthly in print and on the air and there seemed to be constant video footage of the violence. Suddenly, Obama gets into office and no one cares about the number of US dead anymore. When was the last time you saw horrific images from Afghanistan on the nightly news?

When the Republicans were faced with the reality of no WMDs in Iraq and used the monster gassing his own people angle, the Democrats scoffed, but now the shoe is on the other foot. Not only are there WMDs in Syria, but a Democrat is using the excuse that a monster that gasses his own people should be stopped with American military might.

Which is it people? What is our stance in America? Are we justified intervening when a government gasses their own people? Is it OK if they just blow them up and shoot them?  Are we the world’s police? What about the WMDs? They exist, but does their existence present a Clear and Present danger to the United States? I hate to break it to you, but the UK has Nuclear weapons. Israel has Nuclear weapons. But hey, they're our allies so that’s OK. We have nukes too, but killing people with nukes is OK, just not nerve agent. We signed a treaty saying it was bad so there is no way we still have some hidden away in some bunker.

Fact: Syria has not attacked our allies or us. Fact: Neither side of the civil war in Syria would be our friends or friends of our allies. Fact: Syria has WBDs and has used them on their own people in a civil war that has raged for two years with a death toll estimated at 100,000. Fact: The number of deaths from the Sarin gas attack is around 1,300, which is not even 1.3% since it brings the other number to at least 101,300 (these are all estimates but close enough and in ratio to each other).

What is the right course of action for the US with regards to Syria? Let’s break it down from a policy perspective, especially given what we’ve learned in the Middle East in the last twelve years and slanted with my bias.

I think we were wrong to go to war with Iraq regardless of how evil Saddam was. I think we were right to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I think interfering in Syria’s civil war is not only wrong, but also at this point hypocritical. We would have stood by and let the death toll rise to double 100,000 or more and never lifted a finger, but because Bashar al-Assad used Sarin gas, we must intervene by killing a bunch more Syrians? Both political parties have changed sides and are now arguing their opponents previous positions because the fact is they don’t give a shit about Syria. This is about winning elections because both sides want to either stay in power or get back into power for as long as they can. For the last forty years it has become fashionable to use our armed forces for strictly political gain, literally greasing the wheels of politics with the blood of our War Fighters and the enemies that they in turn also kill.

We need to actually have a documented foreign policy that clearly spells out when we try diplomacy first and when we simply move toward the use of military force. We need further gradation to describe circumstances when we use remote force vs. “boots on the ground” force. This policy should not be administration specific, it should be divorced from the Executive Branch with a clause to allow a President to make their case if they feel the situation is not clearly covered by the policy that is voted on by the people and enforced by Congress.

The main requirement for this policy would be to require a clearly stated goal of the military action. What is our goal with Syria? Are we attempting to remove Assad? Punish Assad? Destroy any other chemical weapons? All I’ve heard is the President making a case for military action in Syria using remote weapons with no “boots on the ground”. What is the objective? How will we know when we are done? How many more terrorist attacks will we suffer in the future as retaliation for our action in Syria?

Will there be any collateral damage from our bomb and missile attacks? You bet your ass there will be. Will the number exceed 1,300? Hard to say, but if they do, who would rationalize justification to attack us in response, or will be OK because we killed them with conventional weapons?

To summarize because I covered a lot of ground in this rant:

1.     The Democrats are hypocrites.
2.     The Republicans are hypocrites.
3.     Anyone that claims to care about Benghazi because of the deaths of 4 Americans are either lying or ignorant and probably the latter.
4.     Iraq war bad.
5.     Afghanistan war bad but necessary.
6.     Fuck Syria.
7.     We need a real foreign policy in place that is less driven by the best interests of two political parties and more focused on the interested of the citizens of the United States of America that reigns in the Executive Branch's abuse of power over the last fifty years.