Category Archives: Politics and Gummit

What will Georgia Perimeter, Georgia State Merger Mean for Students?

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Georgia Perimeter campus in Decatur

Georgia Perimeter is about to become part of Georgia State.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday on the expectation that University System of Georgia chancellor Hank Huckaby — himself a Georgia State man — would propose the merger of the massive downtown juggernaut that is Georgia State University with the sleepy, suburban, eastside that is Georgia Perimeter College.

When this news came across my Twitter stream last night while I was half-listening to my 6-year-old read a book before bed, I was rather staggered. See, I went to Georgia State before they drummed me out for being too poor and stupid. Some 10 years on, I’ve found an educational haven at Georgia Perimeter, where late last year I completed two online courses with two As (and one of them was a college algebra class).

Immediately, I encountered the odd mixture of excitement and trepidation you usually feel only after the first time a girl says she loves you. I was dumbstruck. Might I now find myself falling back-asswards into a degree from Georgia State after all?

Here are some questions — and some hypotheses — that ran through my mind last night:

Will they kick me out?

This was the first thing that crossed my mind. Georgia State was so done with me, I even had a hard time paying them the $300 I still owed them so I could get my transcript to go back to college. Would they weed me out? I’m going to act under the assumption that I’m grandfathered in. Like the dilapidated mobile home next to the house on the lot next door, you buy the property, you get the mess that comes with it.

Georgia Perimeter offers online-only degrees; will that continue?

A number of the nation’s finest institutions have answered the call to expand access to education by offering online credits. Many have collaborated through efforts like Coursera and edX. Coursera’s enrollment numbers almost 11 million who engage in free online programs offered by institutions as varied as the University of Michigan and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. I, myself, took a class on Coursera as a “proof of concept” before pursuing a degree online, to prove that my schedule would work with an online class. And edX is a product of a partnership between Harvard, MIT and others.

In expanding access online, Georgia State lags far behind. I cannot find a single Georgia State degree that can be completed online only. In merging with Georgia Perimeter — which offers 18 online degrees — Georgia State would immediately acquire the largest online program in the University System of Georgia. So, using the above analogy, Georgia State gets the abandoned mobile home, but they also get the above-ground pool, so that’s a win.

Will tuition go up?

Oh, most certainly. There’s no question that Georgia State will start nudging up the fees and tuition for Georgia Perimeter’s students. Though the budget for Georgia Perimeter is only a fraction of Georgia State’s, becoming part of a massive research institution will not come cheap. Currently, Georgia Perimeter charges $125 per semester hour for online classes, regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency.

What will become of Georgia Perimeter’s admissions?

Maureen Downey, an education columnist for the AJC, mentioned that Georgia Perimeter has “essentially open admissions.” I don’t think she meant it as a slight, but it still hurt.

Conversely, Georgia State has rather rigorous admissions requirements. Doug Roberson, who covers Georgia State athletics, offered a pretty good insight into Georgia State’s admissions requirements in this Dec. 3 article.

According to Roberson:

To receive consideration for admission, high school students need a minimum 2.8 grade-point average compiled in 17 courses of Math (four courses), English (four units), Science (four units), Social Science (three units) and Foreign Language (two units in same language).

Additionally, applicants need SATs with minimums of at least 430 verbal/critical reading and 400 on the  mathematics. Or, students need electronic ACT scores (including the Writing Test) with a minimum composite score of 19 with at least 17 on the English and 17 on the mathematics. If the SAT or ACT score doesn’t meet the minimum, the student-athletes are considered special admits and are looked at on a case-by case basis, of which few are allowed admission each year.

Again, those are minimums. Georgia State advises applicants that the average grade-point range in core classes is 3.2-3.7, SAT range for admissible freshmen is 970-1190, and the ACT range is 21-27.

Oh, but that’s not all:

These scores, combined with the GPA, are plugged into the Freshman Index, which must meet a minimum score of 2,500 to be admitted.

The two Freshman Index formulas are:
SAT FI = (500 x HSGPA) + SAT  verbal + SAT math.

ACT FI = (500 x HSGPA) + (ACT composite x 42) + 88.

In calculating the grade-point average for Freshman Index purposes, the applicant’s transcript is calculated using 16 of the academic (college preparatory) courses.

As you can see if you go to the admissions tool on Georgia State’s website, a 2.8 high school GPA with a 430 verbal and 400 math will result in ADMISSION DENIED.

On the other hand, Georgia Perimeter let me in even after I crashed and burned at Georgia State. And I applied there after the admissions director of another school told me to because “Georgia Perimeter will take about anyone.”

While this means that Georgia Perimeter may become a more academically rigorous institution, that’s not all positive. My poor grades were largely due to an extraordinary work schedule I maintained throughout college. I had to make earning money my priority over my education; and I’ve paid dearly for that predicament. However, I’m not alone in this necessity. Many students throughout Georgia need the safety net, the second chance that Georgia Perimeter offers. And the long hours I logged working on my courses this past semester, as well as the As I earned, indicate that commitment can run deep even in the most beleaguered of students.

Will they consolidate campuses?

Georgia Perimeter currently operates five campuses: Alpharetta, Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody and Newton County. Georgia State, aside from its vast downtown campus, also operates a branch in Alpharetta. The institutions have vastly different missions; Georgia State is a major urban research institute, Georgia Perimeter is a two-year college designed to serve a maximum number of students.

Multiple locations increase access, yes, but it also drives cost. There are more roofs to repair, more custodians to pay, more square feet to police, that sort of thing. I’m hesitant to think that Georgia State would care to maintain a campus several miles east of Covington when its focus has been on new downtown construction — including acquiring and redeveloping the current Turner Field property when the Atlanta Braves vacate for Cobb County. If Georgia State is really interested in maximizing that whole “largest online program” thing, that makes it less likely still that it will choose to keep all five Georgia Perimeter campuses open. Raising tuition also will impact enrollment, further justifying a decision to consolidate campuses.

Will this make it easier for students to get a four-year degree?

Yes, sort of. Georgia Perimeter offers a large number of associate’s degrees as stepping stones to four-year degrees any beyond. The school also maintains transfer admission guarantees, or TAGs, with a number of institutions. These include out-of-state schools, like the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Kentucky, as well as in-state schools like Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and, well, Georgia State.

Which means that, were you to meet the minimum 2.7 GPA requirement and complete a set list of required courses, you’d be eligible to enroll at Georgia State, guaranteed.

So, there are my expectations. It may yet take more than a year for the merger to be formalized, though the Board of Regents approved Huckaby’s proposal this morning. The merger will make Georgia State the largest college in Georgia, with an enrollment in the neighborhood of 54,000 students.

Not that it will help it finally field a decent football team.

How to Handle Open Carry Gun Nuts: Leave

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I own guns.

Guns. Plural. More than one.

Shotguns. Rifles. Handguns. I got ‘em.

When someone broke into my house in the middle of the night — for the second time in as many days — I grabbed a gun. Twelve-gauge. Good spread. Little need to aim. Works great in the dark.

So to say I’m anti-gun is a fallacy. I got no beef with owning a gun to protect yourself, your family and your property. It’s a dangerous world and there are people who would do you harm. Having a gun in the home is a comfort to me, and I’ve emerged from my bedroom with a firearm in hand more than once.

It has, however, never occurred to me to take one to Target. Or church. Or out to eat.

Gun nuts eating

Just some well-adjusted patriotic citizens eating at a Sonic.

This is because I’m secure in my own person. I don’t worry that I’m likely to be a victim of a violent crime. I know the crime statistics for where I live, I know the odds, and I feel safe when I’m out and about, even sans sidearm.

I also don’t think my wife requires a gun to go out, and she’s never expressed any interest in having one. She’s not even real happy about the ones we have, though I think she’s accepted them as something of a necessity (aside from intruders, we live on the edge of some acres of woods, and wildlife is also a concern).

But then, we’re not emotional children, either. And this is what I have to assume those who cannot leave the house without a gun on them must be: insecure, scared and untrusting.

The fact that someone is so imbalanced that they can’t leave home unarmed makes that individual exactly the type, in my way of reasoning, who shouldn’t have a gun.

A philosopher from the University of North Dakota, Jack Russell Weinstein, posited the following observation:

“They believe their minds are transparent. But this is because they are all extreme narcissists. It baffles them that we don’t all know exactly what they are thinking. It shocks them that we don’t know that Jim is a good guy, and that Sally would never murder anyone. But they are wrong. We don’t know them and we don’t know how they think. The only thing that makes us notice them at all is that they have guns and truthfully, that’s why they carry them in the first place. They want to be celebrities, heroes, and the centers of attention.”

Let’s propose the one event that gun-packing narcissists live for: an active shooter. Someone strolls into a shopping mall — hey, it’s happened, again and again — and begins randomly firing into a crowd. A shopper in Sears (because Sears seems like the kind of place a gun nut would shop) hears the shots, draws that gun on his hip and charges toward the echoing pop-pop-pop.

What is he likely to encounter en route to the shooting? Potentially, someone else with a gun with the same designs as Shooter A: he’s going to save the day. Since Shooter A and Shooter B are both searching for someone with a gun, what is the likely response when their paths cross? Well, more pop-pop-pops, most likely, from two shooters who are excited about firing at each other and whose accuracy, in their excitement, is probably a little off. So, now we’ve got three people shooting in a crowded shopping mall.

Mall in Columbia shooting

Officers respond to a shooting at a suburban Baltimore shopping mall.

Enter another element in our scenario: law enforcement. After the Columbine High School shooting, law officers changed their training in response to mass shootings. They don’t set up a perimeter and wait for backup anymore, because studies have shown that more lives are saved if they’re able to interrupt the shooter. So, now the first officers on the scene are grabbing their shotguns and running in. And what are they looking for?

Well, some asshole with a gun, first and foremost. Like Shooter A and Shooter B. More pop-pops.

The idea of taking guns into restaurants and stores was initially repulsive even to the National Rifle Association, who tried to convince supporters that doing so was “weird.” But the NRA then retracted that position when supporters began to criticize them for not being hardcore enough, and has since broadly expanded its support for “open carry.”

In a recent post on the Philosophy Questions Every Day blog, Professor Weinstein postulated a proposal in responding to people who openly carry in public: leave.

If at a restaurant, stand, turn, and walk toward the door. Do not pay, as this will only slow you down. Epistemologically, you cannot know if the armed individual who has entered wishes you harm or not, nor can you be sure that, should he or she begin shooting for whatever reason, you won’t be caught in the crossfire.

Indeed, the likelihood that two open carry activists might run afoul of each other is high, since all are secure in the responsibility of their own actions and suspicious of everyone else’s. That very thing happened earlier this year in Valdosta, Ga. Indeed, because of the proliferation of “stand your ground” laws, someone openly carrying a firearm can consider himself or herself justified in opening fire even if they simply feel threatened. And since we can’t know for sure what other people external from ourselves are thinking, we can’t know what might frighten them enough to begin shooting.

In dealing with someone who comes into a public place carrying a gun, says Professor Weinstein…

“My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.

“But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just received food from the deli counter that can’t be resold. It doesn’t matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.”

Open Carry at restaurant

And what makes you sure this nice gentleman won’t feel “threatened” before you finish your chili cheese fries?

Since you have no way of determining the intent of the individual with the gun, you should leave. Flee. If the establishment wants you to stay and pay for your meal, it is their responsibility to remove either the threat posed by the firearm or the unstable individual who has it.

If at a deli, set down the cold cuts you’ve ordered and walk out. At the grocery store, leave your cart and go. You don’t have to put yourself in danger because of someone else’s insecurity. And perhaps, if this catches on, businesses will begin invoking their right as property owners to forbid patrons from carrying guns inside their establishments and we’ll all be a lot more comfortable.

There is a time and place for firearms. But if you are so juvenile that you must strut around with a gun strapped to your hip all your waking hours (and cradled under your pillow as you sleep), then you’re evidently doing so for the attention it gives you and the pleasure you derive in making other people uncomfortable.

But I’m within my right not to humor you.

General Aviation: Deadly Disregard Takes Flight

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No one was injured with this plane hit a house in Eatonville, Wash., in May 2013. But planes do hit houses, and people do die. (Credit The News Tribune).

No one was injured with this plane hit a house in Eatonville, Wash., in May 2013. But planes do hit houses, and people do die. (Credit The News Tribune).

Flip over to Google right quick and search “plane crashes into residential area.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

One of the top results you’ll find is the August 2013 story of a fiery crash involving a general aviation aircraft that slammed into a house in a suburban Connecticut neighborhood. The pilot of that craft, Bill Henningsgaard, and his son, Maxwell, were flying around to visit colleges that Maxwell might attend after graduating high school.

The crash killed Bill and Maxwell Henningsgaard. It also killed two children, ages 1 and 13, who were in the house into which Henningsgaard’s plane crashed.

You’ll also find that, on July 16 of this year, a 73-year-old pilot survived when his single-engine plane crashed in the back yard of a home in a residential area of Hillsborough, N.J. His plane was an amateur-built model.

“It’s pretty freaky being a homeowner living where I live, knowing that could have ended up being my house,” Anthony Quintano, who lives near the crash site, told The Star Ledger. Quintano used to live near Teterboro Airport, also in New Jersey, and said he’d seen crashes there as well. “It’s always nerve wracking living near some kind of airport, especially with small planes, which seem to crash a lot more.”

Quintano’s observation isn’t far off the mark. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 94 percent of the fatal aviation accidents that occurred in 2011 involved a category of aircraft called “general aviation.”

General aviation includes high-powered, professionally piloted corporate jets like the Gulfstream IV (one of which crashed at a general aviation airport near Boston in June of this year, killing seven). It also includes small, privately-owned planes flown by amateur pilots. Some of these planes are built by amateurs from kits or pieced together from scrap and spare parts salvaged from junkyards and hobby shops.

By comparison, commercial aviation — those massive jumbo jets most people think about when they consider air travel — accounted for exactly zero deaths in 2011. According to the NTSB, general aviation aircraft average about seven accidents per 100,000 flight hours, while commercial airlines average 0.16 accidents per 100,000 flight hours.

PlaneHitsHouseAgain

Two children — ages 1 and 13 — were killed in their Connecticut home in 2013 because a guy and his son didn’t want to drive to tour colleges.

In fact, from 2008 to 2012, there were more than 7,500 general aviation crashes in the United States. A great many of them are fatal, not only for the pilots who willingly took their lives in their own hands or the passengers who willingly sought the thrill of going up in a small plane, but also for unsuspecting people on the ground. Just this week, a pilot crash-landed his plane on a Florida beach, killing a 36-year-old U.S. Army sergeant and his 9-year-old daughter. That pilot, flying a small plane built in 1972, radioed to the airport that he was having trouble. Rather than ditching in the ocean and losing his precious plane, he elected to land on the beach — where there were people — which claimed two lives even as he and his passenger walked away without injury.

(There is absolutely an economic angle to these circumstances, too. Most general aviation plane crashes occur in close proximity to airports. Those who have money to invest in their housing often don’t live near airports, landfills, wastewater plants, jails, etc. So the people in greatest risk of losing their home to a plane crash also are those least likely to participate in the hobby of general aviation themselves.)

These pilots, who have the money to spend on aircraft and fuel for pleasure flights (when’s the last time you casually priced buying your own airplane?) are subject to far looser regulations than commercial aviation. So loose, in fact, that they’re not even required to carry liability insurance on their aircraft.

Hence the case of a Palm Coast, Fla. woman who lost her home when a small plane crashed into it. The woman escaped the burning home through a window. The crash killed the pilot, Michael Anders, and his two passengers. But because Anders was not required to carry — and elected not to spend the money to carry — liability insurance on his pleasure plane, the woman who was unfortunate enough to own a home in Anders’ flight path now has no way to rebuild her home or recover from the physical and psychological injuries she suffered in the crash. In fact, even though Anders could evidently afford a plane, his estate itself was insolvent so the woman has absolutely no recourse.

Requiring liability insurance could radically reshape general aviation. Insurers can set and more rigorously enforce requirements that pilots have more flight training before taking off on their own — including a set number of hours in the particular aircraft he or she is piloting. They can also require inspection of personal aircraft to ensure they are fit to fly. This creates a safer environment not only for the pilots and passengers, but for terrestrial dwellers like you and me.

Liability insurance also provides some help for people who are the real victims of general aviation crashes (I don’t spend a lot of time weeping for the wealthy pilots who knowingly engage in a hobby that is risky not only for themselves, but have no qualms putting the rest of us in danger as well): the passengers and the people on the ground. Not only is the lady in Palm Coast without a home, but two families lost loved ones who were aboard that aircraft when it crashed, and they, too, will receive no benefits from the crash.

If the Federal Aviation Administration is unwilling to effectively police general aviation — and they’re not, evidenced by a goal they set 15 years ago to reduce the annual number of general aviation crashes and the fact that, over those 15 years, the average number of annual general aviation crashes has remained static — then maybe the insurance industry will do it.

And with any luck, they’ll ground some of these flying cowboys before they can crash and kill even more of us.

After all, if Bill and Maxwell Henningsgaard just drove to colleges like normal people, two children would still be alive and a mother would’ve been spared watching her babies burn alive in the house where they should’ve been safest of all.

There He Goes: ‘Sabu’ Walks Free and Clear

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The headline over the online story in the New York Times was uncharacteristically misleading: “Hacker Who Helped Disrupt Cyberattacks Is Allowed to Walk Free.”

The “hacker,” Hector Xavier Monsegur, wasn’t merely a leading figure in the online Anonymous splinter group “LulzSec”; in many respects, he was the ringleader. As profiled in former Forbes London bureau chief’s 2012 tome “We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency” and substantiated in online conversations recorded by other members of LulzSec and subsequently barred from entering into evidence, Sabu was the self-righteous one who first led to attacks on repressive regimes and, later, to “shits and giggles”-style fun, like hacking PBS and posting a fake story claiming Tupac Shakur is alive and residing in New Zealand.

Monsegur headline

This headline in the New York Times told less than half the story.

Today, Sabu strolled free from a New York courtroom following a sentence of “time served.” All told, Sabu spent seven months in prison. One of his “co-conspirators,” Jeremy Hammond, is doing 10 years of hard time.

As the storyline goes, the FBI zeroed-in on Sabu early. Sabu, who had children relying on him and had known too many people sent to prison, quickly agreed to cooperate with investigators, giving them an around-the-clock eye and ear on the goings and comings of the hacking collective.

But his role as mole belies the fact that, in many instances, it was Sabu leading the charge. He wasn’t a quiet conspirator, but the one convincing his crew to break the windows and pick the locks of the World Wide Web, only to report back to his handlers on the how’s and when’s of the operations.

It was almost entrapment. Almost. It certainly smelled and tasted like entrapment. It was entrapment seafood spread, but made with that fake crab meat that comes from that ass-ugly fish. You know the kind?

I’m sure the whole ordeal helped make some FBI agents look golden. It also provided valuable lessons to those who would be online anonymously: chiefly, trust no one. This lack of organizational structure surely limits the effectiveness of the collective (even anarchists can’t achieve anything without someone calling the shots), and it reminds one to never reveal too much about oneself — or anything at all — if one’s final object is to remain, well, Anonymous.

Sabu has walked. The only walking the others in LulzSec are doing is in the exercise yard.

Douglas County Sentinel Editorial is Irresponsible, Unrealistic

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On Dec. 14, the Douglas County Sentinel – the legal organ and publication of record in Douglas County, Ga. – published an unsigned editorial (making it the “official” opinion of the otherwise impartial newspaper) calling on the county’s board of commissioners and the Douglasville City Council to do a better job of listening to the wishes of their constituents.

For the city, that means changing the way catering contracts are awarded for the new conference center downtown. For the county, it means reigning in spending, lowering taxes – and somehow proceeding with a major capital investment in a new animal shelter and continuing to provide exemplary public services.

Here’s the thing that was missing from the Sentinel’s concise opinion: running a government costs money.

(Actually, the more governments you run, the more money it costs. Look at all the newly incorporated municipalities around metro Atlanta. The job market for city managers, police chiefs, planning and zoning administrators and others have improved dramatically since the Georgia General Assembly got all city-happy, creating massive duplication of services to appease residents who want both lower taxes AND better services. But that’s an argument for another time.)

The city’s decision is much less consequential than the county’s. The long and short of it is, the conference center – which the city owns and manages – has a single caterer under contract, and people don’t like that caterer. Residents wanted the city to follow a more open approach to hiring caterers, allowing multiple vendors to bid on individual events. This would allow some local caterers to participate in the process. But the city has an obligation to run the facility as efficiently – and, therefore, as economically – as possible, and mitigating disputes with multiple vendors or figuring out who is responsible for the cocktail sauce stains in the carpet in the grand ballroom or who’s can of steno scorched the wall in the lobby will be a much larger investment of resources for the city. So, the city decided to contract with a new caterer who will provide exclusive catering services for the conference center. Residents fear that will make the price of having events, like wedding receptions, go up and lead to a loss in utilization for the conference center. Two points about that: 1) there are other venues in town, and if you want to have whomever you want to cater your event, then certainly you can rent a pavilion at the park, a facility at a local, privately owned venue or just have folks over for a weenie roast in your back yard; and 2) going by my own empirical observations, being downtown nearly every Saturday night for trivia at a local restaurant, the limos and black Escalades consistently lined up outside the conference center are a pretty good indication that the venue isn’t at a loss for demand.

The county, however, is really catching heat for a recent increase in property taxes.

Now, let’s get something clear first: the economy tanked, Douglas County has been a state leader in foreclosures, and that means that revenue from property owners has dropped. In the meantime, the county still has to function.

We all like having a fire station nearby, but we don’t want to pay for the engines or the salaries of the firefighters who staff it. We want the sheriff’s office to respond when we call for help, but we don’t want to pay for replacing the patrol cars that get worn out from constant use. We want parks in our communities, but we don’t want to pay the tab when they’re built.

Any idea what a new police cruiser costs?

Any idea what a new police cruiser costs?

The Sentinel’s pie-in-the-sky optimism – “cut spending, cut taxes and find a way to build a new animal shelter” – is absurd. You can have one, maybe two of those things, but not all three. Nor can you expect to have a highly functioning local government operating with dwindling revenues.

Property taxes are a fairly progressive tax: the more your property is worth, the more you pay. If you want to live in a single-wide on a quarter-acre lot, then you can enjoy the benefits of a much lower property tax bill. However, if a 2,500-square-foot all-brick home with a home theater in the bonus room and a rec room in your finished basement is more your taste, well, your annual tax bill will reflect it. But odds are, you’re not going to choose the single-wide just to save money on taxes, and if the single-wide is all you can afford, then you’re going to have an awful lot of tax liens on your lot trying to pay the same bill in November as your fellow resident ensconced in his brick façade.

If we want a reduction in property taxes, then we must accept a reduction in services. Fewer youth recreation programs. Slower response from deputies and fire/rescue workers. More potholes and slower traffic pushing through unimproved intersections. And certainly, we should expect to continue using the same small, outdated animal shelter and probably be willing to say goodbye to the stray and abandoned animals housed there a little faster (after all, gassing and incinerating the puppies and kittens is an awful lot cheaper than trying to feed and clean up after them until someone comes along to adopt them).

The Sentinel missed an opportunity to educate residents on what their taxes really go for. A few empiric examples of probable waste – a take-home vehicle policy that seems generous but that’s actually pretty common throughout the metro area, for instance – is a good start. Every governing body could stand to trim a little fat and run a little better. But this unholy trinity of lower taxes, reduced spending and a capital investment is an impossibility.

If you want lower taxes, be prepared to pay somewhere else. Either in not having a ambulance to respond to your child’s medical emergency, or the likelihood that by the time you get to the shelter to pick up Fido after he slipped the fence, he’s probably been reduced to cinders.

America: A Nation Founded on ‘You Think You’re Better than Me?’

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Flags

“…all men are created equal…”

Do you know why there is a queen in England?

Because she claims to be directly descended from Adam.

Seriously. That’s the claim giving royalty the authority to claim itself royalty: there is a direct line of succession back to the first man, who lived in the vicinity of the Garden of Eden – a place no one can find.

Now, for rational people and philosophers (the two are not synonymous), this is a bit much. Hell, I could claim to be from Adam. Assume I have divine providence and do my bidding! No? Fine.

It came to pass, some 240 years ago or so, that a lot of folks became suspicious of these claims that monarchies ruled because God wanted them to, and it dawned on folks that monarchies got to do whatever they wanted because, well, we let them.

So they got to tax whatever they wanted to tax, send soldiers wherever they wanted, live in palaces while their people lived in hovels, yadda yadda yadda.

But, there are no kings. None of us are superior. Though we possess certain skills may be sharper than others, this does not give us any special sense of authority. I can write you a multi-page essay on almost any given topic in under an hour, sure, but I can’t fix the stairs on my own fucking porch. It’s pitiful. I’m scared of doing more damage than good. I tried to replace the head gasket on my ’97 Cutlass Supreme one time. The car was never the same after that. Am I any better than a carpenter or mechanic? No. I tried to work retail one time. Sold books and DVDs and CDs. Well, tried to, anyway. I have no idea how to sell a battery-powered booklight to someone who already owns a lamp. Does that mean that the fine folks at Kmart are better than me? No.

But just because I’m smart, witty and charming (seriously, everyone says so), that doesn’t make me any better than them, either. For all I know, they may also be smart, witty and charming. Just not toward me.

Americans agree on less and less these days. The gulf between liberals and conservatives, political groups – even television audiences – has grown so wide that it’s become ever more impossible to see the rationale on the opposite shore.

Still, there are some things that I think we can still agree are rather self-evident. We’re all created equal, for instance. And we’re endowed by our Creator – whomever or whatever we fancy He or She to be – with some inalienable rights, like life, liberty and the ownership of property.

What, you say? Ownership of property? Where’d that come from?

John Stewart Mill, actually. Oh, yeah, that whole first part of the Declaration of Independence? T.J. totally ripped that off from Mill. And everyone there knew he didn’t come up with that on his own, too, because they’d read Mill’s Second Treatise on Government themselves and were well aware of the philosophical underpinnings of the document, which itself was viewed by the Continental Congress as a somewhat trivial bit of accounting. Even that date at the top that we celebrate – July 4th, 1776 – is a bit misleading, since the document wasn’t formally approved until the next day, July 5th.

Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s some really good shit in there. I mean, besides the whole “all men are created equal” stuff. For instance, there’s a long, long list of all the reasons the American colonies sought not simply to gain some semi-autonomy, vis-a-vis Canada, but a clear and absolute separation from the English crown: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

What’d King George do? Well (with commentary), I submit…

  • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. (So judges no longer could decide cases that might be arbitrary to the interests of the king.)
  • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. (Imagine if, all of a sudden, you had a dozen or so tax collectors knocking on your door and taking not only all your cash, but all your food, too.)
  • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. (Even now, we hate living in a police state.)
  • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. (Soldiers run amuck, basically.)
  • For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: (This is actually addressed eventually in the Bill of Rights – imagine if you had to house and feed a whole patrol of troops, letting them eat your food and ogle your wife and daughters. You’d be pissed, too.)
  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: (Soldiers run amuck, again.)
  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: (The king blockaded the port at Boston, damn near starving the whole city because he was mad at them.)
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: (That’s a big one. Ask the residents of the District of Columbia about that today.)
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: (Once again, the judiciary essentially served at the pleasure of the king.)
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
  • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. (Once your king starts making war against you instead of protecting him, his last argument for why he should be your king is pretty much voided.)
  • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. (The king really did this. A lot.)
  • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. (He brought in paid professional soldiers to terrorize people. That’s just not cricket.)

Now, there’s some pretty serious shit on that list. And it went on for a while before the colonists decided to ditch this whole monarchy thing and start something akin to an elected government. They put up with this shit for a while. Severing ties with the most powerful nation on the planet is a pretty serious undertaking, and it took some serious infractions to get a majority of colonists on the same page, convinced that going through hell to have their own nation would be worth it.

Even then, it was an imperfect union, and the differences have seldom been settles in a polite and civil manner. A civil nation does not, for instance, within a century undertake an internal feud that pits states against states and results in well in excess of half a million casualties. And then we fight on about our races, genders, sexual preferences, etc., etc.

But there’s some things we still have in common. Mostly, for instance, we agree that we’re essentially a nation of mongrels and mutts. Heraldry and title don’t really matter – we’re not “Sir” or “Lady” or “Duke.” We’re mostly the product of castoffs from other countries, places that didn’t want our kind. Also, if you piss us all off at once, God help you. Ask Japan, Germany and even Afghanistan how that’s worked out. If there’s one thing we’ve always done pretty well, it’s pick a fight. And even if it’s not going well, that’s not going to stop us (see: Vietnam War; War of 1812; etc.).

After a great many years of social evolution and starts and stops, we’re nearing a truer sense of equality for our citizens. Less and less are we concerned with the tangibles that make us difference — race, sex, sexual preference — and more with economic injustice, ideological differences and other intangible matters. Because black or white, gay or straight, man or woman, we strive still to realize that we’re all created equal — or at least more or less so.

And while we watch in awe as the royals “over there” wed and make babies and divorce and are scandalized for nude romps in Vegas resorts, by and large we’re pretty much OK with not having a monarchy ourselves, or even allowing any one person enough power to get much done.

Because any claim that Prince Harry is a distant grandson of Adam is bunk, and we know it. And while we don’t agree which course our nation should take, we do agree that’s a question only we should decide. So we lumber on under our great – perhaps misbegotten – experiment, voting and begrudgingly living with the decisions made by the idiots and charlatans we voted for (or didn’t).

So happy Independence Day, you nation of mutts, of the debris from other nation’s teeming shores. Happy July 4th, you citizens of experiment, you princes of no one and nowhere.

And just because you can probably fix my porch doesn’t mean you’re better than me! Though I am taking estimates…

Same Sex Marriage: A Great Day Has Come

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I was at work this morning when the Supreme Court handed down its rulings on same sex marriage. It was a ruling I’d been awaiting for months, and when it arrived, my pocket blew up with notifications.

My iPod dinged, my phone dinged. Something buzzed. A text arrived. It was the biggest party my pants have hosted in some time.

The Associated Press, the New York Times, the local WSB-TV station here in Atlanta all sent out alerts, first that the ruling was in, then a generalization about what it said, and finally – with a lesson learned from reporters trying to decipher Bush v. Gore on live television – stories on what it meant.

Today, the Court offered two rulings:

  • no longer can the federal government provide a preference for straight couples and ignore same-sex couples;
  • and those who oppose same sex marriage in California have no standing to sue to stop it.

That second opinion was the most telling to me.

It could’ve been broader. It could’ve paved the way to allow same sex marriage in all 50 states. But this Court has an affinity for states’ rights that will never allow that to happen. Nonetheless, those opposed to same sex marriage in California lack the authority to stop it – and, I think the ruling makes clear, the standing to oppose it at all.

Today, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and ruled that California opponents to same sex marriage do not have standing to sue to stop it. (Photo of rally outside San Francisco City Hall — where people know how to party — from the Los Angeles Times)

I’m not gay. Never even a tryst in college. Things might’ve been easier if I’d been gay, in some respects (a thought that occurs to many men after some years of heterosexual marriage). And I’ve been mistaken for being gay before. But I’m not.

Some people are. Some of the gay people I know have obviously been gay since the first grade. They played with the girl and had Leah Frank binders when the rest of us bros carried Trapper Keepers. We didn’t know they were gay at the time, but as they came to realize it on their own, it became more apparent to us.

To watch someone grow up gay is really something. It shows you that gay doesn’t just set-in suddenly or result from a conscious decision someone has made; it’s something that, very often, is always there. And why should that be a bad thing?

Same sex marriage won’t impact me, because I’m not gay. I’ve got my own heterosexual marriage to worry about. And there’s nothing in these rulings that mean that churches must host or even recognize same sex marriage, so the First Amendment is fine. It does, however, mean that it’s no longer OK to treat gay people differently, to act like there’s something wrong with them.

Remember this: the ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that requires the federal government to recognize same sex marriage comes from a suit filed by Edie Windsor of New York. Windsor, now 83, married her wife, Thea Spyer, in Toronto (where same sex marriage is actually not that big of a deal) after a 40-year courtship. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was left owing more than $360,000 in estate taxes – taxes she would not owe if the federal government recognized her marriage as legal.

So the decision comes not as a result of a fanatical activist, but as the product – the something good – that came from 40 years of love between two women, and through the perseverance of the surviving member of that union who asked not to be treated differently, but to be treated exactly the same as my wife and I are treated in the eyes of the law.

And those opposed to same sex marriage really needn’t worry about these rulings. That’s why the second opinion is the most telling. Not only do they not have standing in the courts, they honestly don’t have standing, period. The only people who have an interest in whether or not same sex marriage is legal are those who have been using that as an excuse not to marry their would-be husbands and wives.

And for you, welcome to married life, suckers.