Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Theft, Guns, Violence – An Experience

My brother flew up from Oklahoma last Monday night to stay with me for a week and see Boston. Tuesday morning he had a meeting with Noam Chomsky to discuss how modern chemistry and biological molecules may lead to new propaganda techniques that could influence opinions, by altering brain chemistry, far greater than image and sound are capable of alone. He said his meeting went extremely well and that Professor Chomsky had told him to call anytime he wanted to get into any further discussions. This part of the day was the good side of a dichotomy that would later present itself to us.

Later that evening, after a rather interesting discussion about the ideas of democratic socialism, anarco-syndicalism, and capitalism at the People’s Republik bar we took off to get a tour of an old frat-house that had been turned into M.I.T. coop housing with my brother’s friend Dustin. The house was a disaster. There were wires hanging from the stairwell, all of the beds were covered in circuit boards, actually as far as I could tell there were no beds, only hammocks tied between bunks covered in books and computer equipment. Their most prized room in the house was “the closet of porn” which contained mostly gay porn videos and a few Playboys and surprisingly it also contained a lot of physics books. In that closet there was a ladder leading to a hidden “jerk off” room that I decided was not going to be sanitary enough to warrant my intrusion. The nerdy kids living there had obviously never anticipated bringing a girl over for a romantic evening; or at all. Eventually I could no longer stand being around the people and filth so I grabbed my brother and decided to leave.

I was parked on the street behind the coop house, right off of Commonwealth Ave. For a few seconds I fiddled with my keys in order to unlock my car door when all of a sudden a dark form hidden away in my car leaped out the passanger side and almost stopping my heart. My brother yelled. Then at the same moment we noticed this man was running off with my brother’s backpack on, which contained his digital camera (that he had used to take a picture of himself with Noam Chomsky earlier that day) and some other expensive items and some important sentimental books and letters. We both took off running after the man, while screaming obscenities at him. I am a little faster of a runner than my brother and I was closing in on the thief quickly; what I was going to do when I caught him I had no idea. Then, out of pure luck, he accidentally dropped my brother’s backpack but kept running. A rational person would have stopped chasing after him at this point but my car had been broken into, my brother’s stuff stolen, and my adrenaline was running high so the only thought going through my head was, “I need to beat the living hell out of this guy.” With my brother’s help we could have very easily hurt this pudgy, white, drugged-out criminal very badly, and we would have, if he hadn’t stopped and pulled a gun out and aimed it at my chest and screamed, “I’ll fucking kill you!”

I was terrified. My troglodyte-like instincts telling me to injure the offender instantly subsided and the clear rationality induced by an ultimatum of death took over. I quickly stopped running and ducked behind a nearby car, my brother followed suit a little ways back down the alley, and I said the only thing that came to my mind, “Whoa, don’t shoot.” The man then turned again and started running away. I did not follow.

When I got back to my car I found the rear passenger side window smashed out and my car stereo was gone, but other than that everything else seemed to be in working order. As it turns out the thief was a practical man and had put my stereo in my brother’s backpack for concealment or ease of carriage, so at least I got that back.

In the end I was lucky: I did not get shot, my stereo was retrieved, and all of my brother’s belongings were accounted for. There was no need to call the cops.

My brother seemed a little shaken up by the incident but overall he looked okay, and after a phone call to his girlfriend and a Red Hook ESB at my house he was completely fine. This was not the first time I have had a gun pulled on me, although this time I was far more fearful of the situation, so I put the whole thing behind me pretty quick. The worst part is that I have to replace a window now that, after paying off the last huge chunk of credit debt just two days ago, I cannot afford. I hope my insurance covers it, without making me pay the deductible.

Monday, March 27, 2006

French Protests

In France a new labor law was passed, called the First Employment Contract (CPE), that allows business owners to fire an employee without any reason before two years of employment is over if the employee is under the age of 26 . The new law was passed in a slightly devious manner by avoiding a debate on the statute that is, apparently, standard before any regulation issued by the prime minister (Dominique de Villepin) is placed into law.

Large protests and rioting have been taking place throughout France because of the devious manner in which the statute was passed as well as there is strong resentment towards how the law affects youth employment. The main disagreement with the law is that giving an employer the ability to fire someone 26 and under after two years creates a strong bias against long-term employment for youths. Some argue that because of this bias “an employer will have an incentive to end their employment before the two years are up and hire another employee who is under 26.” (from This is especially prominent right now because youth unemployment has reached almost 20%, prompting me to wonder: how could Dominique de Villepin have thought that this statute would help lower the youth unemployment rate? Is the idea to give employers more of an incentive to hire younger people because they can easily fire them later? I would think there is a better approach.

Before the CPE was passed businesses could fire an employee with no reason only before one month of employment. It seems to me that two years is a bit exorbitant, though I also believe that an employer should have longer than one month as a trial period for the new employee. Three to six months, with no age restriction, seems at least reasonable to me and any more than that begins to give the employer incentive to continually find new people. I hope France is able to come up with a good alternative to the CPE that can show the rest of the world that strict labor laws, and strong labor unions, can make life more of a life rather than simply an employment history.

I applaud 35 hour work weeks. I love the idea of at least one month of vacation per year. And I truly doubt stipulations such as those would have any negative effect on business in the US.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

New Songs From the Ancients

Imagine a large group of Blue Whales, the largest animals to have ever roamed the Earth, traversing the deep, dark blue, waters of the Pacific ocean and all the while singing songs to one another filled with booming bass and high pitched chirps to keep from going bored. Amazingly enough the whales spend their year developing and honing their songs to the point of perfection. I only wish that the songs could be translated into english to see what the whales are thinking about, but maybe they just like particular sounds strung together in patterns that will never make sense to us humans. Check out the science article here.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Coup D'Etat

In Harper’s Magazine’s latest issue (Aprill 2006; pg. 44-50) a discussion between four academic military intellects was recorded and documented. The discussion evolved from the initial question: Is a military coup d’etat possible in the United States? All four of the military theorists agreed that at this point in time a military coup d’etat is not possible. Andrew Bacevich states the reasoning for this fairly succinctly by asking, “what are you going to seize that, having seized it, gives you control of the country?” Richard Kohn also contributed to the same line of thought by saying:

Do you think you can control New York City without the cooperation of 40,000 New York police officers? And what about Idaho, with all those militia groups? Do you think you can control Idaho? I’m not even going to talk about Texas.

The point is that a seat in the white house is only capable of governing us because we elected them, and without our support, unanimously across the country, no military coup could gain control of the US.

So it is not possible for the military to overthrow the government but is it possible to change our current regime by forcing the president to resign and holding a new election? I use the word “regime” because I believe that Bush, by purposely using false information to lead us into war and by illegally spying on US citizens, has crossed the line drawn for a US president and stepped into the realm of an authoritarian leadership. Can we get rid of the Bush administration without simply impeaching Bush and giving Dick Cheney the reigns? Even if that most likely will not happen, is it possible?

Polls show support for the Bush administration is at an all time low, down in the mid 30% range, but that is meaningless unless something can be done to remove the administration. He still has the power of preemptive strike and has said many times that he will use that power to prevent Iran from enriching Uranium. While I, like most people I believe, do not wish to see the proliferation of nuclear weapons I do not believe that a military regime change in Iran is necessary, which is exactly what our administration seems to be advocating by stating Iran as the number one threat to the US. This, in my opinion, is not acceptable. Is it constitutionally possible to oust an entire administration and ask for a new election before the four year term is over? I do no know the answer to this but I would really like anyone’s input on that idea.

With a president that has far more executive power than ever before it becomes necessary for us to strengthen the checks and balances that will keep the president from acting outside of the people’s will. Congress is supposed to be this check but all too recently we have seen that the president’s control over the National Security Agency, and pretty much all governmental sources of information, has made congress unable to function properly to prevent such disasters as the Iraq war. After realization that the administration as a whole concealed relevant information for a case against the war, that they have openly admitted to breaking the law set down the FISA of 1978, and therefore admitted to being above the law, and “encouraging and countenancing torture” as Congressman John Conyers Jr. puts it, shouldn’t the people have the ability to decide that they made a mistake in putting this man and his administration into power? We need not just impeachment, though that would be nice, but a complete regime change.