Monday, October 26, 1998

Week of 10/26/1998

Do You REALLY Want To Know?
Should politicians have a personal life?
- by David Matthews 2

Picture this scene sometime in the near future:

Dateline: Washington DC - The political world was shocked to learn that Senator Joseph Blow of Tennessee had once engaged in a sexual activity. The two-term Republican was embarrassed to admit that he had engaged in sexual intercourse, but he said he was young and foolish.

"I cannot lie about my actions," Blow said in his speech. "I did engage in a sexual act, but it was with my wife and it was to fulfill my marriage obligations to her. However, I have since abstained from any kind of sexual activity."

Blow’s admittance of sexual intercourse is the latest in a string of allegations between him and his Democratic contender, Charlie "Hip" O’Cryte. Hip O’Cryte is the leader of the conservative-conservative group "Families Against Sex in Tennessee." Speaking from his campaign headquarters, the leader of FAST called Blow a disgrace to the state.

"It’s time we recognize that sexual activity, even between man and wife, is a sign of ultimate degradation in society. It pains me to know that such a perverted man can think he can serve the just and moral people of this great state!"

Hip O’Cryte continued to deny allegations, however, that he himself engaged in solo sexual activity in his youth, claiming that he has a right to privacy about his juvenile past.

Sounds a bit absurd, doesn’t it?

Well it should, but that is the pattern we will be heading towards in the political arena!

As the sex-and-lies scandal that is the Clinton Administration continues in its soap opera zeal, politicians are engaging in a form of damage control, making sure that their own closets are clean of any similar skeletons.

Not everyone is escaping this sexual witch hunt intact, however. Three Republicans in Congress were revealed to having extramarital affairs in their pasts. This outraged members of Congress, not for the affairs, but rather that the probe into such activity was starting to include them.

So now the question has surfaced - Should politicians be entitled to a private life?

Europeans think so. Many Europeans cannot understand why we Americans are so obsessed with the President’s sex life. They think that the President should be left alone when it comes to his sexual past, and any affairs should be a matter left between him and his wife.

But too many Americans say that they are entitled to know what a politician does while he or she is serving the public. Their rationality is that a politician serves the public trust 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and as such, they must be constantly under scrutiny, and that the public is entitled to know what that politician is doing at all times.

Folks, this is just sheer and utter lunacy! How much of a politician’s personal life are we expected to know? If we feel entitled to know whether or not the politician in question is faithful to his wife, why not also know how often he engages in sexual activity with his wife? After all, if he isn’t pleasing her, she may be engaging in an extramarital affair of her own! And isn’t THAT just as scandalous?

And adultery isn’t the only "immoral" activity that certain social crusaders abhor. How about drinking? Maybe we should find out what kind of drinks our politicians partake in. And where. And how many.

While we’re in their kitchen, why not check the fridge to see what kind of food our politicians eat. After all, their pantries are stocked with food paid for with our tax money, right? We don’t want to have our politicians die because of poor health, do we?

Great, now we have ourselves determining if our elected officials eat the right kind of bran muffins for breakfast. Happy now? Maybe we should check his bowel movements while we’re at it, huh? Any volunteers from our neo-Orwellian crusaders?

Let’s be brutally honest here. Moralists who feel they need to know every aspect of a politician’s personal life don’t want to stop with that politician. Many moralists, especially those who consider themselves social conservatives, do not believe that ANYONE deserves a personal life, never mind a politician. All they need is an excuse to pry into people’s lives. It doesn’t matter if that excuse is for "family" or "God" or "country," if they can use it, they’ll be peering through your windows and into your bedrooms in a heartbeat.

On the other hand, it is the very hypocrisy of our politicians that have caused some of the most abhorrent actions in the name of "protecting families" and "preserving America." The ink was barely dry on the First Amendment when Congress and the White House violated it with the Alien and Sedition Act. Americans abhorred the actions of Nazi Germany against those they considered "undesirable," but were quick to intern all Japanese-Americans during the start of World War II. And more recently, Congress joyously voted to allow the Kenneth Starr Report to go online on their own servers, while at the same time voted to ban similar material from going online freely on commercial servers. When it comes to hypocrisy, you’ll find the US Government as a shining example of it.

So where should we draw the line?

Personally, I think that a politician, like anyone else, DESERVES a personal life that should be their own. When they’re not on the stump, they should deserve to live their lives as they see fit, just like we expect of ourselves. The same too for celebrities. If they invite us into their bedrooms, that’s one thing. But otherwise let them enjoy their life outside the limelight.

But there’s one caveat: If they decide to use their position to act as a judge of other people’s behavior, they had best be living up to their preaching! You want to talk about family values, you’d better not have any past mistresses lying in wait. You want to talk about the sanctity of marriage, you best not have any ex-spouses in wait. You want to talk about "addictive substances," you better have your own vices in check!

Conservatives and moralists may not like the brief public scrutiny into their personal lives, but in many cases it is an effect of their own creation. Those who feel it is their right and their role to peer into the personal lives of others must realize that their own lives would be scrutinized as well.

The moralists apparently have forgotten a little passage from a certain carpenter’s son: "Judge not, lest you be judged."

Monday, October 19, 1998

Week of 10/19/1998

Election Time Rants
- by David Matthews 2

Okay my fellow Americans, it’s the election season. That time when stuffy politicians come down off their lofty self-righteous positions and act like they really care about Joe and Jane Six-pack. The time when stupid commercials from the dysfunctional elite say "Vote for me, because I’m nothing like my incompetent opponent."

I also know that most eligible voters in America will do the stupidest thing in the world and not vote. Part of the reason will have to do with the time involved, but another will have to do with the candidates themselves. The campaigns have become dirtier than Pigpen at a Monster Truck rally in the middle of a sandstorm!

Folks, there is a reason why political campaigns have gotten dirtier and muddier than ever: THE POLITICIANS DON’T WANT YOU TO VOTE!

I’m serious. There is a direct correlation between dirty campaigning and political apathy. The dirtier the race, the fewer people that show up to vote. The new strategy for career politicians is this: since they already have their core group of voters, all they have to do is to make sure nobody else can show up with more votes against them. So they pick on the most arcane of past histories and the vaguest of reference points to use against their opponents. They use the most trivial of issues as their cause. And, of course, the other side does the same thing, because they know that such a dirty pool can dissuade the few remaining marginal voters who voted for the incumbent. They saturate the media with so much 100% pure methane that it becomes impossible to differentiate between one candidate or the other. The public gets disgusted, they assume the two parties are pathetic, whining children (which really isn’t far from the truth), and they stay home, leaving only the extremists who are loyal to the cause and have an agenda to push.

That’s how the game is played, folks! And you’re walking right into it when you decide that your vote doesn’t matter!

Isn’t it great to know you’re so gullible and predictable?

I have to laugh when I look at some of the bull that’s out there. I mean, the spin doctors and the political consultants really try to put one over on the voters. Let’s take a minute to look at some of the political tactics:

The "Would’ve Voted" Commercial - The commercial says that "Senator Dumbass voted NO for SB1234. Joe Blow says YES." So what else was in SB1234 to make Senator Dumbass vote no on it? Every single bill that’s presented to the legislature is chock full of pork and mealy-mouthed lawyer-speak that I don’t even think that the politicians themselves know half the time what’s in it. The spin doctors certainly don’t. Maybe SB1234 would’ve done the exact opposite of what it was intended to do. If that was the case, even if Dumbass voted for the bill, Joe Blow and his legion of spin doctors would’ve rode his ass for it and say that "Joe Blow says NO to SB1234." And then there’s the fact that, in many of these cases where this tactic is used, Joe Blow never held a public office in his life! How the hell would we know if Joe Blow would’ve voted for SB1234? Maybe he would’ve done the very thing Senator Dumbass did!

The Useless Words Hook - You know, I’m beginning to understand why politicians and political wannabes use catchwords like "family values" to death. It’s not that their opponents are against "family values," but rather they can’t say anything positive about what they’d do if elected!

So you’re a "family values" politician huh? Well, so supposedly was Adolph Hitler! What makes you any different?

The same goes out to the politicians who pride themselves on claiming to be "conservative." I mean, come on! Any politician that talks about changing the status quo is, by definition, NOT a conservative!

These are examples of useless words that the spin doctors and political consultants use to describe their candidates. But the problem is that they have been so used and abused that they no longer have any legitimate meaning. You might as well say one politician is "pro-spoon" rather than "pro-fork."

Guilt By Association - The new Republican campaign is a variation of the old "Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?" Theirs is "Do you now, or have you ever relied on Bill Clinton to campaign for you?"

The inference, of course, is that Bill Clinton is so politically toxic that any association with him means that candidate is just like Clinton. That includes the simple fact that Clinton represents the Democratic Party. So much for the "big tent" inference touted by both parties.

This tactic is not limited to scandalous unconstitutional presidents. Here in Georgia, the two leading candidates for lieutenant governor are campaigning on the meaningless "conservative, pro-family" stance, and are squabbling over who is associated to gay and lesbian groups. Mark Taylor claims Mitch Skandalakis used to associate himself with gay and lesbian groups to get elected on the Fulton County Commission. He did, but then, in true political fashion, stabbed them in the back. Skandalakis then countered by saying Taylor got an "endorsement" from the gay publication "Southern Voice." Which was true, but the endorsement was completely tongue-in-cheek, which means it wasn’t an endorsement at all. But try to explain that in a sound bite.

Using guilt by association is nothing more than a cheap tactic originally developed by lawyers to dispute damnable testimony, and perfected by politicians to further their careers.

When you look at this year’s political season, I hope every voter out there uses a very valuable tool. It’s not a "voters guide" or a cheap political slogan. What I want every voter in America to do is this - use your brains! That’s the most powerful tool you have against a politician. When all is said and done, politicians are nothing more than glitzy used car salesmen, and sometimes really bad ones at that. If they can’t sell it to you, they can’t control you.

Use your brains, people. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Reformist, Green, or even an American Communist. It doesn’t matter if you’re a conservative, liberal, libertarian, moderate, or autocrat. THINK about the choices out there.

Don’t let the politicians do your thinking for you.

Monday, October 12, 1998

Week of 10/12/1998

Target: Generation Y
Are The Boomers’ Progeny Ready For Prime Time?
- by David Matthews 2

Take heed, my fellow members of Generation X, our replacements in the pop scene have been discovered!

It seems like it was just yesterday that we were at the forefront of popular culture. We were the anti-Boomers. We were conformists when the Boomers were activists, and activists when the Boomers were conforming to authority. While Boomers were fighting for peace, we were fighting for the right to "PARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-TY!"

Anyone remember how we got the name "Generation X" in the first place? We got the moniker "X" because the sociologists couldn’t come up with a single term that best described our generation! We weren’t like the post-World War II Baby Boomers. There was no war to mark us like the "War Babies" of my parent’s generation, or a world depression like there was in the early 1930’s. Nope, nothing monumental that could mark us. So we were the "generic" generation.. Generation X.

Well now the torch has been passed to the children of the Baby Boomers. The sons and daughters who comprise of…. Generation Y?

I’m serious, fellow X-ers, I didn’t make that title up! Apparently the social experts who tracked us were too lazy to come up with an original moniker for the next generation. They simply moved up one letter.

And from the response from the media, the world seems ready for the new blood to take over the cutting edge from us. They deem Generation Y to be optimistic, eager to spend their money on new goodies, and activists on all the right causes.

Of course, they still have every right to be optimistic and idealistic about life. The oldest of the Gen-Y breed are just starting to venture out from the house. The college-bound have yet to suffer college-loan shock for a few more years. The job market is healthy.. for now. They have a few years of disposable money before getting hit with the burden of bills. Things look optimistic for them.. at least for now.

Of course, part of the reason why Generation X got such a bad rap was because the Boomers, not just Madison Avenue, couldn’t understand us. Let’s be brutally honest about this, we came in after the party was raided by the complicity police. Boomers had free love, we got the deluge of information about sexually-transmitted diseases and AIDS. There were no great causes that the Boomers had that interested us at the time. There was no great war for us to protest against. Race relations went from opening all doors of opportunity to keeping some of those same doors closed.

Then there was the hypocrisy of many of the Boomers as they matured. The generation that didn’t trust anyone over thirty did turn thirty, and became parents, and they didn’t want their kids to be like they were in their youths. The generation that followed them grew up watching this hypocrisy as it unfolded, and bore the brunt of their folly.

Madison Avenue didn’t get the joke when they saw the grunge scene. They tried to emulate the look of torn jeans and bargain-basement clothing in high fashion circles and then wondered why we were insulted by it. They didn’t realize that we weren’t trying to be fashionable, those were the only clothes we could afford to wear!

We in Generation X were depressing because we got stuck with the bill. The job market shriveled up. Downsizing was the name of the game. It’s hard to be optimistic when you find out that the minimum wage job you applied for was given to a Boomer who just lost his high-five-figure job and needs to feed his family. Members of Congress couldn’t even balance their own checkbooks, never mind the federal budget, and we were being told there would be no money in Social Security when the time comes for us to access it. And every time there was talk about fixing Social Security, the media would flash some geriatric on the screen screaming "this is OUR money, you can’t have it!" when they don’t realize that those same spendthrift politicians they keep electing were the ones who really spent "their" money. Given all those things, wouldn’t you be depressing?

Truth be told, the Boomers didn’t WANT to understand Generation X. They were too busy trying to raise Generation Y, living that life they once despised and though of as a joke.

Well now Generation Y has been discovered by the cutting edge, and for all that it’s worth, they’re welcome to the limelight.

Maybe they can be everything their parents wanted to be in their youth but couldn’t. Or perhaps they can be something better than their parents. More responsible, less hypocritical, and more realistic in how they see the world than their parents ever were. I would certainly hope it to be so, because I hate to see how "Generation Z" turns out if it doesn’t.

Monday, October 5, 1998

Week of 10/05/1998

Just A Sample..
Do you think DNA dragnets aren’t intrusive? Wait until it snags YOU!
- by David Matthews 2

Picture this: You’re sitting at home with your family, dinner’s almost ready, and there’s a knock at the door. You open the door to see two officers standing there, badges visible, squad car in the driveway.

"Good evening Mister Smith.. I’m Sergeant Joe Thursday, this is my partner, Officer Miranda Voided. Sir, we’d like to ask you to come down to the station with us to provide a DNA sample."

You wonder what’s going on. Are you a suspect in any crimes? Do you need to call an attorney?

"No sir, we don’t suspect you of any crimes, this is simply a precaution. You see, we’re investigating a number of crimes in the area, and we’d like to weed out any potential suspects by having people provide us with a sample of their DNA. It’s a fairly easy procedure. We’ll just take your picture, take some fingerprints, and then take a swap to the inside of your mouth for some skin samples. We can have you back home in an hour."

You tell them you’re uncomfortable being taken down to the police station like an ordinary criminal.

"Well Mister Smith, I can understand you feeling uncomfortable with all this. This is, after all, a new procedure for us, but it’s being used in Europe to crack down on their killers and rapists. I would think that an upstanding citizen like you wouldn’t hesitate to clear any possible connections to crimes and …. No, Mister Smith, I told you that we don’t consider you to be a suspect in any wrongdoing. But we want to eliminate you from any possible crimes, and we can’t do that if we don’t have a sample of your DNA to do it. You don’t want to be wrongly accused of a crime, do you?"

So you ask them what they’ll do with this DNA sample once they get it from you.

"What do we do with this data? Well, I really don’t know what happens to it. I assume they keep it on file for reference, but we really haven’t set any policy for how to handle it.

"Now, Mister Smith, we can’t force you to take part in this. This is completely up to you. But I want you to think about how suspicious it looks to have you refuse to take part in this. It may make us think you have something to hide. You wouldn’t want us to think that way, do you?"

Fantasy, you ask?

Try this is becoming REALITY!

You know, Americans tend to pride ourselves on the freedoms we claim to have. We like to think we’re NOT in some totalitarian regime or in a theocracy run by rabid religious extremists. And yet, one has to think about this kind of stuff and wonder how far America really is from being something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984!

Now, I have no problem with the advancement in technology that makes DNA testing more and more faster, easier, and affordable for police and prosecutors. In legitimate criminal court cases, DNA can make or break a case. DNA testing has freed many a wrongfully convicted person when all else has failed, and has served to cement a case when all other forms of evidence can be refuted.

Yet now that same speed in testing is being used as the excuse to collect as many DNA samples as possible of the general populace. A form of DNA "dragnet" is being used to collect samples from certain groups as a way to "narrow" a search. Police in some towns are using this in isolated cases, but others are wondering if this could be used on a regular basis, much like their counterparts in England have.

Their rationality is simple - people give up a little DNA sample from inside their mouth, it gets matched against DNA samples taken from crimes. Those samples match, they’ve got their criminal. They don’t match, you’re still free. No muss, no fuss, no attorneys, no warrants, no courts. Simple.

Too simple.

Unfortunately, the theory doesn’t match with how it has been used. In all the instances where genetic dragnets have been employed, there have been no instances where the genetic samples resulted in arrests! The only breaks in cases where such a procedure was used came from the dragnets themselves, not what was collected.

In other words, the only successful use of the genetic dragnets has been as a bullying tactic, exposing possible suspects by finding some way out of the tests. Still, the concept of collecting such information is seductive to law enforcement here in America.

Of course, the supporters of such a measure say there’s nothing wrong with genetic dragnets, that it’d be just another consequence of us living in a so-called "civilized" society. After all, look at the number of states where you’re asked to give up your fingerprints as part of your drivers license. How about those states where you have to give a breathalyzer test if the police suspect you of driving drunk? If you refuse, they take your license away on the spot. And how about the number of companies that require you to take a drug test as part of your employment? Certainly a violation of a person’s personal rights, yet it’s done nonetheless.

Let’s be brutally honest here, folks. There’s a difference between having to pee in a bottle for a job and having the police escort you to the station to give up a genetic sample. You don’t HAVE to work at that job, and if you refuse to take the test and don’t take the job, that’s all. But if you refuse to allow the police to take a genetic sample from you, you’re considered a suspect in a crime. That means they get to poke around in your life, follow you around, and try to find just WHAT IT IS you’re so guilty about!

Here’s a dirty little secret, folks: in the war on crime, the police do not recognize conscientious objectors. It’s often a zero-sum game, and you’re either with them or against them.

Now for those of you who think such a dragnet would be a great idea, I want you to go back to that scene at the top of this article. I want you to imagine how you would explain to your family and your neighbors that you had to go to the police station like a criminal, get fingerprinted and photographed like a criminal, and then had a genetic sample taken from your body like a criminal. Then explain to them that you didn’t do anything, and that you were just cooperating with the police. Oh, sure, they’ll believe you. Maybe. Or how about being rousted in the middle of your sleep? Or summoned from your job? You want to explain that situation to your boss?

Then there’s the fact that, like any other kind of police power, it can be abused. People in the Boston area may remember an incident about fifteen years ago where a successful white attorney called the police on his car phone to report that he and his wife were shot by a black man. Every single black male matching the brief description of the lawyer were rousted from their homes, taken to the local Boston PD district, fingerprinted, photographed, and put on a lineup for the attorney to identify. Every single civil rights group in the area was screaming about Gestapo tactics, which failed to bring forth a single suspect. It later turned out that the attorney had shot his pregnant wife and himself and blamed it all on a fictitious attacker for the sole purpose of collecting on the insurance. Unfortunately the attorney committed suicide before the truth came out. Now tell me, do you want that kind of situation happening in New York? Or Los Angeles? Or Atlanta? Or Birmingham?

Supporters claim that the whole procedure would be "voluntary," but that is a myth. There is no such thing as "voluntary" when it comes to government. Even George Washington has said that "government is not eloquence, it is not reason, it is force."

What about what happens to the samples once they are collected and a person is cleared of the current crime? Knowing the federal government and its obsession with information, there is no doubt that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would set up some kind of genetic database like they do fingerprints. Your genetic sample, encoded, in some database for anyone in the government to gain access to for any reason whatsoever. Yeah, that’s a reassuring thought.

Listen folks, there’s a reason why government has been limited to the kinds of intrusive searches other countries have allowed. Our country was formed on the basis that the individual should be free from government intrusion into their personal lives. It has also established a system of justice where someone is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Those two concepts may not always be in fashion, but they have stood as safeguards against an over-intrusive government. That’s something our well-intentioned advocates of genetic dragnets can never guarantee, not matter how much they sugar-coat their goals.