Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Carrying firearms in a way too liberal state - how things change.

After seeing the CNN poll (about halfway down on the right side - I'm not sure how long it'll last, as it's on an often updated page) asking if the shooting spree in a German school highlighted the need for further gun control (results, as of 10:25pm EST, 3/11/2009, stated 63% yes, and 37% no), I got to thinking. Things have seriously changed for the worst.

I've been living in Maryland since I was four years old (my family moved here in 1979). I'm 33 years old now. Maryland has always been a liberal state, and recently been one of the most gun controlled states in the union. Back in 1983 (or within a year of that), I had my first experience with a firearm - at school - a public elementary school.

It had long been a tradition at the school for staff and faculty to dress up in costumes for Halloween. This particular year, the gym teacher dressed up as a cowboy, complete with two real six-shooters on his hips. He even, during lunch that day, fired blanks into the air. Over the course of the day, he let interested students handle the revolvers, but was always meticulous about ensuring that the cylinders were empty, and that the weapons were safe before allowing any student to handle them. He also made sure to teach and enforce the rules of gun safety to each and every student that wanted to handle the revolvers. As a result, many students learned something they otherwise wouldn't have, and nobody was injured. Being a young child myself, I remember the revolvers seeming HUGE. I still learned a lot about firearms from that gym teacher that day, and as a result have never injured myself or anyone else with any weapon (firearm or otherwise - I'm an avid sword collector, and do not yet own any firearms) since (at least, not without intending injury).

Today, that gym teacher would be in jail for doing the same thing.

The teacher also had an open carry permit, which was far easier to get in Maryland at the time. Tonight, I read the Maryland gun laws again. Here is what Maryland law says about the requirements for an open carry permit (simplified for the layman) Source:

Permit To Carry

Application for a permit to carry a handgun is made to the Secretary of State Police. In addition to the printed application form, the applicant should submit a notarized letter stating the reasons why he is applying for a permit.

The permit may be issued if the Secretary finds that the applicant:

* Is 18 years of age or older.

* Has not been convicted of a felony, or of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.

* Has not been convicted of a crime involving the possession, use, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.

* Is not an alcoholic, addict, or habitual user of a controlled substance.

* Based on the results of an investigation, has not exhibited a propensity for violence or instability.

* Based on the results of an investigation, has demonstrated a "good and substantial reason" to carry a handgun, including a finding that the permit is "necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger."

It's the last bullet point that is the deal breaker in Maryland. "Good and substantial reason" could be defined as anything, and likely not anything that would allow an average, law-abiding citizen to carry.

Even excluding firearms, it's already illegal to carry any bladed weapon with more than one sharpened edge, more than five inches in blade length. Technically, I'm breaking the law when I carry my 12" Crusader's dagger at historical reenactment events, as it has a 12 inch long, double edged blade (and has never been pulled in anger or aggression, and has never tasted blood). The state of Maryland won't allow me to carry that, which only has an effective danger range of my arm length plus 12 inches. Think of the moronic legislation that disallows the average citizen from carrying a handgun with an effective range of 100 yards (and an accurate range of only 25-50 feet). Open carrying of a rifle or shotgun is completely illegal (with the exception of antique firearms - defined as being built before 1899, which are exempt from all state firearm laws - I suppose they think a Wild West era Colt Peacemaker is less dangerous than a Smith and Wesson 1917 .45 Revolver made in 2008).

Honestly, I oppose all gun legislation because almost all of it makes no sense. Sure, I can understand the government not wanting me to have a live nuclear warhead attached to an ICBM siloed in my back yard, but for fuck's sake, at least define the conventional firearms you want to ban before trying to do so.

Friday, March 6, 2009

My Excommunication

Recently, I've been asked several times for "story time" regarding my excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. At the time I was being asked, I didn't feel much like story time (rough day at work, kind of drunk, wanting to relax). Tonight, I feel like story time.

The time was late 1991. I was sixteen years old. It was sometime around early to mid December. The regional Cardinal was in town greeting the congregation and speaking a few sermons at the various local masses. After a late morning Sunday mass (which my parents always attended, having gotten into the habit when I was still in Sunday School), I had the pleasure of speaking personally to the Cardinal. Now, mind you, at the time, I still identified as a Catholic, but had had my doubts about the faith for years, and was leaning towards the ancient Celtic/Norse traditions.

The Cardinal (I can't remember his name for the life of me) and I started talking about the Catholic faith. As a confused teenager (and confused about my faith as well as the other typical things teenagers are confused about), I started questioning the reliability of the teachings of the Bible, particularly when there were so many contradictions.

As the conversation progressed, we talked about the contradictions in Genesis, Matthew, Deuteronomy, and many other books. As I pointed them out, and then offered more realistic suggestions based on the ancient Celtic/Norse faiths (mostly those that pertained to individual divinity, a matriarchal society, and ultimately, the concept of "to each their own"), he became more and more defensive in his side of the conversation, and I found myself more on the offensive. Also, having been raised in a mostly scientific household that promoted education over religion, I argued many points of basic scientific fact, evolutionary theory, and some minor quantum physics (which I had just enough knowledge about to be dangerous at the time).

Ultimately, the Cardinal started to see the logic in my arguments. He actually started to agree with me, regardless that many of my arguments disproved countless parts of the Catholic faith. He ultimately broke off the conversation, saying he needed to prepare for his next mass. As the next mass was only ten minutes away, I accepted his excuse. After ending the conversation, I went home.

Early in the following week, I overheard several classmates talking about how "off" the Cardinal seemed in his later masses that day. Being still largely naive at the time, I didn't think much of it until I received a letter from the Cardinal a few days later. The general gist of the letter was that the Cardinal had seen too much truth in my arguments and was doubting his faith. As he had devoted nearly five decades to his faith, he couldn't accept doubt in it. What the hell? He was in his sixties, and was shown up in a religious debate by a snot-nosed sixteen year old brat? I thought it had to be a joke. I continued to think it was a joke until a received a second letter two days later from the Cardinal, requesting that I meet with him again at the Church the following Sunday. Amused, I decided to make the meeting.

At the meeting was the Cardinal and the local pastor. I was told that I was facing excommunication from the Church, and would be excommunicated if I did not reaffirm my beliefs. I refused. How the hell can a simple conversation of logic be a mortal sin in the eyes of a major organization? I expressed this thought. I was asked again to repent and agree to submit to a reaffirmation of my beliefs. Once again, I refused. I mentioned that I couldn't bring myself to associate with an organization that would refuse free thought among its members. I was excommunicated shortly thereafter. It really wasn't the big smoke and mirrors Hollywood ritual that one might think it is. It basically ended up being that I was informed of my ineligibility to ever receive the Eucharist again, and was encouraged to continue to attend Mass. I found it odd that I was kicked out of the Church, but still encouraged to attend.

Except for a few holiday Masses that I attended out of respect for family members, I never again attended a Catholic Mass. I never again participated in Communion. This really disturbed my grandmother, but out of love for her, instead of telling her the truth, I kept making up lies about injuries that prevented me from walking. I only did this to spare her from the ultimate shock of learning that her grandson had been excommunicated from her beloved faith. She was always the gullible sort, and always trusted me with the lies I fed her. I truly feel she would not have lived as long as she did had she known the truth.

After excommunication, I devoted my spiritual life to the ancient Celtic/Norse spirituality, and ultimately found myself as the top "priest" in my own faith, based more on personal experience, but with elements from the Celtic/Norse faiths filling in the blanks. Over time, I lost that faith as well, as science took far more importance in my life. Finally, around 2004, I officially identified as an atheist, having identified as an agnostic since about 2001, and arguably, off and on since 1992 or earlier.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Energy Efficiency is not a myth!

I got my bill from BG&E (the local gas and electric company) yesterday. I had signed up for budget billing immediately upon starting the service. To date, the budget billing was $77/month (including both natural gas and electric). Apparently, my somewhat green lifestyle has paid off. I only use compact fluorescent lights, I don't leave lights on in rooms I'm not in (except for the kitchen, and only when I'm cooking and waiting for a timer to expire). The TV is often on when I'm home, but it's an older tube TV, and uses less energy than the newer LCD or Plasma TVs. Also, my thermostat is set at 68 degrees (and was set at 50 degrees the whole time I was on vacation).

Anyway, yes, I do try and conserve power. My BG&E bill reflects that.

Next month, after BG&E re-assessed my gas/electric consumption, it'll only be $63.00. This makes me happy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

February 9, 2009. Obama has spoken. My Questions.


Obama, you spoke about the economic stimulus package. This package is nearly as costly as the bailout package was. Where is the money coming from? You never answered that. Frankly, most Americans, including myself, are taxed to the limits. The money just doesn't exist in the general American public.


Afghanitan - you waffled about pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Frankly, I want to see all of our boys home. The longer we dwell in the middle east, the longer we beg for terrorist activity here at home. It's been made quite clear that the middle eastern nations want to be left alone.

The A-Rod question - Who gives a fuck? I don't give slight fuck if an athlete used steroids. This is not a presidential question.

The Pakistan question - all I heard was more military action. "We want to ensure that the government of Pakistan are stalwart allies" means to me more bombings and ground attacks until we can ensure that.

Bush Administration trials/convictions - only lip service about prosecuting the war criminals - mostly just promoting the "values" of his administration.

Schools - While I support the idea of better school funding, once again, where is the money coming from?

Obama, you have failed to answer one simple question: Where do you plan on getting funding? Taxpayers are broke. Pork programs can be cut back, and the war fund can also be cut back. You still haven't said where you're getting funding. China isn't lending anymore. Where is the funding coming from?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Automaker Bailout Failed. Who's To Blame?

With story after story coming out pointing fingers about the Senate failure of the Automotive Bailout Bill, it's time to look at who is really responsible for the failure of the bill and the automakers themselves.

UAW (United Auto Workers) is pointing their fingers at Southern Republicans for lobbying against the bill. Automakers are pointing fingers at a slowing economy and Japanese competition. Nobody is pointing fingers at the one group that is really responsible for the failure of two of the American Big Three automakers - the automakers themselves.

The fact is, the Big Three are failing because they could never adapt to the desires of the consumers. While additional financial burdens from the UAW may have some bearing on the failure of these companies, its effect is minor. The Big Three have enough market share to be quite profitable, even in this economy, if they would just build what the people want.

American auto manufacturers have never been particularly adaptable. They started nearly a century ago, building big cars with big engines. Their heyday was during the 1960s muscle car era, when a big-block Ford or Chevy V8 was the thing to have.

Then, we enter into the fuel crisis of the early-mid 1970s. The Big Three were still producing their gas-guzzlers, but people weren't buying them. It was about that time that Toyota, Honda, and Datsun (now Nissan) put themselves on the map in the American market. They were building reliable, fuel-efficient vehicles. The Big Three tried to keep up. What did they offer? Such jokes on wheels as the Escort, the Pinto, the Gremlin, the Chevette. I still hear jokes about the Pintos and their exploding fuel tanks, and that car was discontinued before many of you were born.

During the 1980s and 1990s the Big Three were back in their heyday again, when fuel was cheap, and big cars were again in fashion. They sold hundreds of thousands of cars a year, and many of them came with big V6 and V8 engines.

Then, after 9/11, the world changed. Fuel prices started going up as tensions increased between the OPEC nations and the US. Never again would we see fuel under a dollar a gallon. While most people could still afford the higher fuel prices and continued to buy gas-guzzling American cars, a segment of the population turned towards the more fuel efficient and higher performing Japanese auto market. Fuel prices continued to rise, and large American vehicles were becoming less and less popular. Nobody seemed to want Hummers, Suburbans, or Excursions anymore. More and more people were looking into buying cars with smaller engines, realizing that they could have both fuel efficiency and high performance, all in the same package. Japanese market share went through the roof. The Big Three tried to remain competitive by partnering with smaller Asian automakers - Ford with Mazda (that occurred in the early 1990s) and GM with Daewoo - in order to try and produce smaller cars with higher performance that could remain competitive with the wildly popular Japanese manufacturers. Ford was the only company to experience some success with that strategy, as Mazda was already a known manufacturer, and already had some prestige in the market. Ford's economy and compact cars actually did provide similar styling, performance, and reliability to the Hondas and Toyotas it wanted to compete against. This is why Ford is still staying afloat. GM introduced some top notch cars like the Chevy Aveo, which is built in South Korea by Daewoo, and is roughly equivalent in quality to the often joked about Yugo.

Add to this that the overall quality of American vehicles was falling short of the Japanese quality. As fuel prices rose and the economy slowed down, people wanted to buy a car that would last for a long time and provide high fuel efficiency, but didn't want to give up the comfort of their larger cars. The Japanese manufacturers heard that plea, and gave the consumer exactly what they wanted, particularly in their Lexus, Acura, and Infinity lines, as well as vast improvements of standard equipment in their traditional best sellers. The Big Three didn't.

Now we have them whining about impending collapse and failure. Now they're pissed that the Government didn't hand them the bailout. Sorry guys, you fucked up. You failed. You had plenty of opportunity to improve your products and adapt them to the needs of the consumers. You didn't. You failed. That's nobody's fault but your own. The market has spoken, now either liquidate or improve.

The bailout bill failed because people, even in the government, are starting to realize just how mismanaged the financial bailout package was, and they're also realizing that it's not costing taxpayers only the initial $700 billion as advertised, but nearly $4 trillion, once you figure in all of the extra pork barrel spending, other bailouts not included in the main package, and the ways that large companies are abusing the provisions in the package. The United States has gotten tired of bailouts, and are apparently starting to see the error in their ways, now that it's too late.

The economy is still tanking. Wall Street execs are still getting all of the extras that they don't deserve. Two of the three big American auto manufacturers are about to go bankrupt. Really, it's not rocket science. If the average Joe continually makes bad decisions at work, he gets fired and has to deal with the consequences. The failure of the automakers and Wall Street are no different, except in the terms of amounts of money involved.

I welcome the failure of bad businesses, particularly if they're big ones. Perhaps we might finally be able to hit the reset button that Dr. Ron Paul and several other realists have been talking about for ages. Sure, it'll be tough for everyone, but in the end, it'll lead to a far more solid and stable economy, and plenty of wealth for anyone that cares to work for it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Obama Is Not The Messiah. Please Stop Worshipping Him As Such.

I've recently (over the past couple months since Obama won the Presidency), read more than a few blogs that have touted Obama as capable of superhuman and nearly god-like things. I'm, personally, sick of hearing this crap.

Obama is not some sort of superhero that will right all of the world's problems. He's just an intelligent man that can formulate a coherent sentence. He will likely improve a few things, worsen a few other things, and generally do the job a President is supposed to do - likely much better than his predecessor did.

The way I see it, the only reason Obama has become viewed as some sort of superhuman entity is because, for the past eight years, we've been subjected to a President that is a completely new caliber of idiot - to the point that even the common idiot thinks he's an idiot. Because of this, a simple education seems to have been elevated to an almost godlike status. I have news for you. Intelligence is not a superhuman power. It is simply the result of hard work and a desire to gain such an educational level.

Obama will not end the wars on terror and drugs. He might get us out of Iraq, but that's been in the works for at least a year now. He will not single-handedly end the financial crisis. If we see an end to the recession during his term, it'll be because of the work of the nation as a whole, not solely of Obama. He will not switch us to the metric system - I think he has far more important things to worry about. He may improve foreign relations - the rest of the world seems optimistic on this point.

I did not vote for him, nor do I support many of his proposed policies (or announced cabinet choices). He will become the President on January 20. I will give him the same chance I give any President. I will not make wild or impractical expectations of him. I will simply expect him to do his job to the best of his abilities.

Just keep in mind, Obama is not a deity. One would be a fool to think him such.

My contempt for certain other atheists...

Atheism is a belief that no god exists (in singularity or plurality), and that all that exists on Earth and in the universe at large can be explained by science, even if it's a science/technology that we do not yet possess. This is a definition widely accepted by all atheists. Does it make us somehow superior? No.

I am sickened every time another atheist thinks (s)he is superior over our religious brothers and sisters, just because they believe that no deity exists. By touting the superiority of science and logic over the heartfelt beliefs of religious people, does that not make us as bad as their extremists?

The fact is, nobody, whether through science or theology, can prove or disprove the existence of a higher power. Because of this, we are all, regardless of spiritual belief or lack thereof, equally as clueless about the imperceptible universe.

One would think that atheists, who value science, logic, and reason above all else would be quite tolerant of other systems of belief, largely because science, reason, and logic, as we know it, states that we are not capable of knowing, one way or the other, if a deity exists or not.

Most atheists are quite tolerant, mostly because of the above stated reasons. There are a few, however, that are not. These are the ones that I don't wish to be associated with. They are to atheists what Al Qaeda are to Muslims; what Westboro Baptist Church (the group that protests soldiers' funerals) are to Christians; what the Jewish Defense League is to Jews.

When an atheist proclaims his/her superiority over all religious practitioners, I get sick to my stomach. We are no better or worse than any religious group. At times, I even see my last religious affiliation (with the Celtic pagans) as a more tolerant group. I'll tell you, even for all of their illogical beliefs, they are likely to be one of the most religiously tolerant groups I've ever known (most of my friends still fall into one of the various pagan religious groups - Wiccans, Celts, Norse, Roman, or Greek). Religious tolerance was certainly not one of the reasons I left my former religion. Even after leaving my last religion, I still cherished the tolerance I learned.

I am the type of person that is willing to simply ignore religious displays. As an atheist, I am in the minority here in America. Religious displays are common, even where I live, which tends to be a more secular/religiously downplayed area. I tolerate the crosses all over the place. I tolerate the nativity scenes during the holidays. I tolerate the greetings of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah", which I most often return in kind. At any holiday gatherings I attend, I politely refrain from participating in any sort of religious prayer or offering, and those I know accept that I don't believe the same as them.

As an atheist and a believer in the power of science, logic, and reason, I am what I am. That does not make me superior to anyone. My fellow atheists would likely do well to remember that. We deserve an equal voice, not a superior voice.