Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On the issue of slavery...

I know this guy. He's a fairly intelligent guy. He even has a college degree. Ironically, his area of focus is on the subject of the history of African-Americans...and yet, he is a self-proclaimed democrat/socialist.

Obviously, if you've made it through a four-year college degree, you're not a complete idiot. I'm a college drop-out, and I'd like to think I've got more than just a few cooperative brain cells. High school algebra kicked my ass. Get a degree, and you've obviously got a little bit going on up there!

That being said, I cannot understand how someone can be a socialist, while simultaneously be opposed to the institution of slavery. You see, he himself is in fact the victim of slavery...just like the majority of people who are able to read this.

No, my "master" has never tied me to a post and used a bullwhip on me before, but I have been bound and caged for nothing more than failure to follow his directions!

Before we can truly understand this, we must get to the heart of exactly what slavery is. When most people think of slavery, they think of muscular African-Americans (henceforth referred to as "black" for the purposes of this posting, in the same manner that Caucasians are referred to as "white", it just takes less time to type it out!) picking cotton in a field. They may think of "Aunt Jamima" fixing dinner, or "Uncle Tom" being a "house nigger".

But really, is this what slavery is? Does it require a bullwhip and a darker degree of skin tone? No, slavery is an institution in which one person has claimed ownership over the life of another. The enforcement of slavery takes many forms today. In American life, the consequences for acting in opposition to the master's directives most often result in the loss of personal property or personal liberty.

You may ask, how can a person be considered a "slave" if he's able to complain about his own slavery in public, where his own master may potentially hear it, without facing repercussion?

It's quite simple. The institution of slavery has not changed. The methods used by the slave-owners, however, have. To give an example of this change, let's look at the way "it used to be". Three hundred years ago, if a slave directly disobeyed his master, he was immediately beaten and/or possibly even killed. Today, however, the slave (you and I) are considered "community property". Specific people have been given authority to mete out such punishments. It is no less the institution of slavery, yet it is not quite the same as being tied to a tree and whipped.

Imagine you live in a community where it is illegal to park a car with an expired registration tag in your driveway, because the city ordinance has defined such a vehicle as being a "junked car". You paid for the car. You own the home. A city "code enforcement officer" (the new word for "overseer") comes to your home and issues you a citation for the misdemeanor offense of storing a junked car in your driveway, and gives you a summons to appear in court for this "crime" of storing your personal property (car) on your real property (driveway). You refuse to appear in court because you know that you've purchased both the land and the vehicle with the fruits of your own labor...and yet, the policeman still shows up at your door, intent on hauling you off to jail in chains because you disobeyed the command of your masters.

If you resist such treatment, you may be physically assaulted by the overseers (our "peace officers"). If you take a swing at the overseer, you may have the level of assault upon your person escalated to the point where potentially lethal weapons are used against you, such as tasers and handguns. If you attempt to match the threat level with weapons of your own, you will be met with multiple "tactical" officers potentially deploying full-auto firearms and/or even an "armored personnel carrier". In all likelihood, you will be killed.

Killed, for what? For not paying a taxation sticker on an antique car you purchased, with your own money?

Now, let's get further into taxation. With the sales tax, you have organizations of people (henceforth known as "government", or ".gov") saying that if you live within a particular physical boundary, the value of all goods and services you provide will be taxed. This tribute you pay to the government will be for the purposes of "the greater good"...meaning, it's going to pay your slavemasters and your overseers (.gov employees). You can't sell a hamburger or mow a lawn, legally, without paying an 8%+ sales tax.

What is the government telling you, by saying that you must pay a sales tax? It not only owns your personal property, but also owns your labor. If you are not free to do with it as you choose, you do not own it!

If you cannot own property, and are not free to do as you wish with your own body, are you not a slave? If .gov finds you guilty of not paying your taxes, and you resist .gov's attempt to throw you in a cage, will you not be beaten or killed?

If this is not slavery, then I do not know what is. How can a man be opposed to slavery, and yet, simultaneously advocate it?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The "nontroversy" of the day...

Today, I got a very interesting phone call on my way home from work. One of my cousins called me, and was very obviously agitated at the fact that his child had been sent home from school with a homework assignment involving writing a report on Hinduism...complete with her very own artistic rendition of “Shiva”, the many-armed Hindu diety. This project was for a World Geography class. Strangely, this man seemed even more agitated by the fact that I saw nothing wrong with this.

Personally, I think it makes perfect sense to have a school project involving the world's third-largest religion, for a class studying “World Geography”. Call me crazy, but I think it's just a tad bit well as being a complete non-cause for controversy!

For starters, let's look at the issue of first-amendment rights. Learning about a world religion does not infringe upon a person's own religious beliefs, any more than learning about the industry of meat processing infringes upon a person's right to be a vegetarian. It's not the same as having the teacher lead a recital of the Lord's Prayer, or hanging a copy of the Ten Commandments in the administration office. On one hand, you have a study of one of the many religions of the world, and on the other is an administration-sponsored endorsement of religion.

When we studied history in school, it wasn't considered an endorsement of religion, being taught about the 95 Theses of Martin Luther or the loyalties of the citizens of North Ireland being split upon the Catholic/Protestant lines. Religion was an integral part of the equation, because you couldn't really understand the situation without it. I studied both of these topics, as well as many others that were centered around religion, and I was neither compelled nor advised to hold any belief similar to the people I was learning about. I'm quite certain that my cousin's child isn't being asked to say Hindu prayers to Krishna or believe in reincarnation, either.

He asked why they weren't being taught about Christianity, in the same manner that they were being taught about Hinduism. It seems rather obvious to me. If I'm learning the ins and outs of auto mechanics, I don't really need an in-depth lesson on how to turn the headlights of my car on. Likewise, if I live in a nation whose predominant religious affiliation is Christianity, it's unlikely that I'd NOT already know at least as much about it, as what is likely being taught about Hinduism. While America is a secular nation by virtue of its constitution, most of my neighbors celebrate Christmas on the same day I do.

Considering that it is a World Geography class, I'm assuming that the unit is probably based on the Indian Subcontinent. While I know for a fact that there are Christians in India, the ratio of Christian to non-Christian is likely somewhere in the neighborhood of “One in a Million”. Considering that Christianity really plays no part in the history of India beyond being the predominant religion of Englishmen during its days of colonial occupation, it wouldn't really make sense to include anything about Christianity in a study of India.

The point I'm getting at here is quite simple. You go to school to learn stuff. Sometimes, you may be influenced by it, in the same manner I was influenced as I read about Luther, Gandhi, Jefferson, Collins, et cetera. On the same note, there were many things I learned a great deal about, yet wanted no part of. Learning about Chavez didn't make me want to be a Mexican fruit-picker. Reading the manifesto of Marx didn't make me want to become a communist. Studying WWII didn't turn me into a Nazi, nor do I wear a Yarmulke simply because I know what the Auschwitz death camp was.

If you do not wish to have your child learning about the cultures of nations other than his/her own, you do have the option of not sending your child to a public school. In fact, I very much advocate private education, even if it isn't due to some notion that drawing a picture of an eight-armed deity is going to make your kids start wearing turbans and painting dots on their foreheads. It never hurts to gain knowledge.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Dr. Ron Paul's campaign turned me into a criminal

***The following is a letter that I sent to my US Congressman, Dr. Ron Paul, TX-14. It describes the absurdity of how government "protection" has branded me (and so many of my fellow Texans) as criminals. While Dr. Paul is a federal congressman and does not stand in a position to change the matter any more than you or I, he is a citizen of Brazoria County, TX...and is subject to this law, just like you and I.***

Dr. Paul:

I'm writing to you because I've discovered something very frightening while researching the “Funeral Protest Ban” that has been in the news lately. While I certainly don't agree with the practice of protesting anyone's funeral, I disagree with using the force of law to limit the freedom of expression of political, philosophical, or religious opinion even more.

Upon learning that the city of Sweeny had brought up the idea of banning funeral protests, following in the footsteps of the city of Brazoria, I tried further to find a copy of the actual text of the ordinance. Instead, what I found was Section 42.055 of the Texas Penal Code.

I did, indeed, find it rather frightening that the city council members of Brazoria County's various municipal governments felt the need to pass such local ordinances, considering that there has already been a state law in existence for several years that carries an even stiffer penalty. That would suggest that our city governments are not versed in criminal law well enough to be writing them, if they're unaware that they already exist!

What I found even more frightening, however, was the manner in which the state law was written. In order to “cover all the bases”, it had to provide a very wide net, as to prevent people from using loopholes in the law to get around such protest bans. By doing this, they turn everyday people into criminals...often, these people don't even know it!

It's no secret that anti-protest laws centered around funeral services were written and passed to protect the already-grieving families of dead US servicemen from Fred Phelps and his ilk. I know of no other instance in my 32 years in this nation, when anyone has ever protested a funeral prior to his sickening publicity stunts.

While I don't make it a habit to advertise my “military service” (or rather, “lack thereof”...I was thrown out of the Marine Corps under an “Entry Level Separation” 14 days after reaching MCRD San Diego for failing to disclose a juvenile arrest on my enlistment application), I do remember the oath that I and every other enlisted man was required to swear prior to joining. I, like so many of my friends and relatives, stood before a flag along with many of our fellow countrymen and swore an oath to “support and defend”. Last time I checked, our first amendment was written to ensure that speech critical of our national affairs could never be criminalized.

My grandfather (Vivian A. Rhodes, US Army) trekked across Europe and got shot at by men living under threat of death for publicly expressing disagreement with their leaders, and did so because he was told that failure would lead to our country being in the same shape. My uncle (Dusty M. Rhodes, US Army) was drafted and sent to Vietnam, and undoubtedly had to endure many unkind words upon his return, as so many soldiers of his time did. At the age of 12, I had the chance to visit Washington D.C. with another uncle (Nick Rhodes, US Army), and saw the Vietnam War Memorial in person. What is etched in my mind from my DC experience was not necessarily the sheer number of names on those granite walls, but seeing the faces of those who visited to remember their fallen...and knowing that for every name on that wall, there are many who loved them. These facts are not lost with me, when I consider the moral right to peace amongst a grieving family vs. the legal right to express an opinion in public.

Sadly, I can't tell what frightens me the most, if it's the illegality of expressing a public opinion about politics or religion within one hour and one thousand feet of a funeral or a memorial service, or the fact that just about everything has been thrown into this law to ensure that no one is able to circumvent it.

My father owns a house in Angleton, as well as a machine shop on Hwy 288B, and both are literally right around the corner from the Angleton cemetery...which makes driving within 1,000 feet of a funeral service not exactly an uncommon occurrence for either of us.

A while back, during your son Rand's congressional campaign, I attended a fund raiser for him in Lake Jackson. I was honored to meet both of you, and I enjoyed being able to listen to my employer and Ronnie Jr. joke around over a couple of beers. I was also privileged enough to meet Mr. Tory Watson, the man who designed quite a bit of your campaign marketing material, and was given one of the smaller “Vote for Ron Paul” placards. It has been displayed on the dashboard of my jeep for so long that the color has since faded off!

That placard, ironically, has turned me into a criminal in the state of Texas, due to section 42.055 of the state penal code. As “repeated” driving would constitute driving more than once, and I was most certainly displaying that placard, I became a Class B Misdemeanor criminal for being a pallbearer when my grandmother's sister was buried. Since the penal statute is so over-reaching, anyone attending that funeral with so much as a bumper sticker was criminalized.

That law was written to protect the families of dead servicemen, and I think we more than qualify as such a family. More importantly, this law applies to all Texans, regardless of the chosen employment paths our relatives may take. While “protecting” was its intention, criminalization of many was its end result.

I cannot drive to the gas station from my father's house and back, within one hour prior to or following a funeral service, without violating the law, because there is a piece of paper sitting on my dashboard. I cannot park my vehicle at my father's shop and sit in it while I wait for him to get there within an hour of a funeral service, as this also violates the statute.

I work on Plantation Drive in Clute, almost directly across the street from your F.R.E.E. building. As I'm sure you're aware, there is a very large cemetery located on the corner of Plantation and Dixie, near a whole slew of fast food restaurants where many working men and women get their lunches every day. It is not an uncommon occurrence for me to wait for the traffic of a funeral procession to clear before going to pick up my own lunch, which also places me in a position of criminal liability. As well as myself, the law is so broad as to include anyone who might drive past the cemetery and back while picking up their lunch, if they are simply listening to the car stereo...regardless of whether it actually “disrupts” the funeral! I'm not absolutely certain of the distance between the cemetery and Brazoswood High School's marching band practice area, but I'd hate to think that a memorial service had created criminals out of a bunch of high school kids!

While these may be considered a “stretch” of the law's application, the employees of the Little Caesar's pizza restaurant down the street from us are certainly committing the crime of “picketing” on a regular basis, as part of their employee duties require them to stand between the roadway and the parking lot displaying a sign reading “Hot & Ready! $5.99!” when business gets slow.

All of this, of course, illustrates the idea that a government with authority, fueled by the emotional support of a majority mob, can create a criminal out of just about anyone...even when they don't intend to!

Lest we forget, these laws were written to protect the families of US servicemen from the Westboro Baptist Church. While the publicly-stated views of this organization are hate-filled anti-homosexuality rants, they are often displayed in public at locations so far removed from actual funeral services that they are physically incapable of actually disrupting anything...much like your car stereo, when you drive down the road to pick up your lunch. In fact, in the Snyder case, where the Supreme Court ruled Westboro's public expression to be constitutionally protected, Mr. Snyder was barely able to even see the Westboro bunch in the funeral procession and had no idea who they were until the day after his son's funeral.

I find it completely absurd that we should outlaw driving down the street, parking our cars, displaying bumperstickers, et cetera in the name of protecting our emotional well-being. I'm certain that no reasonable jury would ever convict a person for engaging in the acts I've described above, and I'd like to think that our police officers have enough common sense and self-control to not arrest someone for picking up that $5 footlong and having the audacity to listen to the radio on his way to and from Subway. However, the statute does in fact make these actions a crime, and that crime is potentially punishable by a $2,000 fine and a six-month stint in the county lockup.

I'm at a loss for answers, as I know this law will never be repealed without a Supreme Court decision, and I'm in no mood to become a “test case”. Any politician with enough intestinal fortitude to speak out against this law will instantly be branded as a person who “does not support the troops”, just as I have been for speaking out against it in our local newspaper. Things like that don't typically make good soundbites for those seeking election, so it will never happen.

I pray for this nation. I'm saddened by what it has become. Emotion has overtaken this nation by shoving reason and rationality out of the way, and turned it into a lynch-mob atmosphere. Our legislators at all levels feed from this, as if they're living out the real-life political equivalent of a professional wrestling show. There's a new boogieman hiding around every corner, and our response is always “Make it illegal!”. I'm beginning to wonder if there's any hope for us left.

Your supporter, constituent, and countryman,


Sunday, March 13, 2011

1st Amendment, Westboro, and Brazoria City Council. What does it mean?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's the First Article of Amendment to the United States Constitution.

"Abridge" is the word of the day, folks. According to, it is a verb meaning to "shorten by omission while retaining the basic contents; reduce or lessen in duration, scope, or authority; or to deprive".

Now, let's look at the purpose of the First Amendment's protection of free speech. Is the purpose of being guaranteed the right to speak freely to protect our right to say what we want in private or around those who agree with us, or is it to protect our right to express our opinions in a public forum without fear of legal reprisal from those who don't agree with us?

It seems rather silly to suggest that we'd be given a legal guarantee for something that the majority of us agreed with. To the contrary, our right to freedom of speech was guaranteed in law to protect the right to say things the majority of other people would disagree with. To say things the majority of people find to be offensive. In short, it grants you the legal right to act like a jackass if you want.

There is no lawful recourse to dealing with someone who abuses this legal right, provided they have not infringed upon your rights, other than exercising your own right to tell them they are acting like a jackass.

So why does this matter to me? Last week, the city council of Brazoria, TX passed an ordinance prohibiting public protest within one thousand feet of a funeral. I have not yet had the chance to read the ordinance itself and am only going by what members of city government officials are quoted as saying in our local paper, but I'm assuming it is applicable to graveside and indoor services.

So how far is 1,000 feet? It is a distance far enough to effectively remove any public demonstration from the possibility of being seen or heard from any funeral service within the city of Brazoria. You see, a protest group is already generally prohibited from protesting actually on the grounds of private property they don't have the right to be on, including all cemeteries in Brazoria...meaning their protest would have to be on the side of a public street. Being forced to move their protest 2/10 of a mile farther down the street would put them out of view and earshot of anyone at the funeral.

Can you imagine what would happen if a Baptist church were told that it couldn't protest within 1,000 feet of an abortion clinic? What about a VFW post being told that it couldn't hold a parade within 1,000 feet of a mosque? A child being told that he couldn't say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Easter" within 1,000 feet of a public school because he has Jewish classmates?

I find it unconscionable to protest the funeral of ANYONE, be they members of the US military, or anyone else. However, given that this ordinance was passed to supposedly protect the honor of our US military in the wake of Fred Phelps et al, it seems rather odd to suggest that we disregard the constitution to honor those who have sworn an oath to uphold it. It makes as much sense as banning the bible to honor God!

I have the utmost respect for those who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way, after swearing an oath to support and defend the constitution of these United States, regardless of whether I agree with their mission or the orders that they have been given in our "War on Terror". They don't make the orders, they just follow them. They did, however, swear that oath to our constitution knowing that they might be put into harm's way. I gladly volunteer to stand between their families and any group of people who may choose to protest their service. I will not, however, stand for a disregard of our constitutional rights.