Confessions

I took a hiatus from writing on this blog, not because I am tired of writing nonsense, but I am getting very tired of writing about nonsense; unfortunately, there is plenty of that to write about.  The stream of stupidity from the Republican “adults” seems endless and it just isn’t worth the effort to talk about while those who are getting paid to do it (Jon Stewart, et al) are doing a rather clever job with it.  But while we have a major reckoning with the Confederate flag (again), it’s time for a little truth-telling – about the flag and about myself.  I’ll tell on myself first.

There was a time, when I was in my early twenties, that I wore a Confederate flag on a jacket that I frequently wore.  I didn’t wear it because of any racial animosity or anything other than as a “Southern” thing from someone who grew up in Alabama.  There truly was no more thinking into it than that, that is to say, there was no real thinking going on about that flag at all.  I was finally forced into thinking about it one night as a black man I worked with, a Marine who went by the name of “Slash”, asked me about it.

“Montgomery, you’re a really good guy and I just can’t figure out why you wear that damn Confederate flag patch.”

“Well,” came the feeble reply, “I’m from Alabama, you know, I grew up in the South.”  Yes, it rings just as stupid and hollow in my ears today as it likely reads for you.

“Well, so am I! I’m from Alabama, too!”

If I had a reply to that, I don’t recall what it was.  What I do remember is Slash saying something along the lines of “think about it”.  I did.  That night, after coming to some conclusions about the flag, I took that patch off and refused to make any rationalizations about it since.

The rationalizations that surround the Confederate flag have to do with “heritage”.  Well, that’s all well and good if you’re a white Southerner who doesn’t think that holding slaves in a country that made the pretense to freedom and liberty is hypocritical.  If you happened to be a descendant of those who suffered under such a myopic society, your views of such a heritage might feel a bit differently.  Regardless, the flag has nothing to do with “heritage”, it is straight up bigotry.  The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups didn’t adopt the Confederate battle flag by accident – they know what it means and what kind of a culture supported its cause.

Honoring one’s ancestors has a curious quality about it: those who are ostensibly being “honored” don’t know anyone is doing it; they’re dead.  Ultimately, the recognition is on display for the living to view.  What must be “honored” is the act of defending one’s home against the invaders.  Well, why were the invaders invading?  Could it be that the Confederacy declared war on the United States and fired the first shot of the war?  They did this in the name of secession, something the U.S. Constitution did not expressly give them the ability to do.  Then the defenders of flag and heritage will have to begin to lie so to perform the mental gymnastics inherent in defending the flag while disassociating it from the cause of the war.  They will tell you that the war was not about slavery, and maybe they are correct in a very technical sense – the war was for secession– but all paths lead to the driver of the economic engine of the agrarian South: slavery.  One only needs to look at the articles of secession issued by various states and the Confederate Constitution, where the rights of slaveholders were declared and protected, to see the lie.  There is no doubt that the South feared the loss of slavery and viewed secession as the remedy to maintain the institution.  There are no lies to tell, no diversions to employ, that can undo this truth.

Yet, there will be those who will continue to try to hide the truth.  I can only hope that a portion of those will have a similar experience as I did and stop and think about what that flag really means.  Maybe that portion aren’t really bigots, they’re just, as was true for me, unthinking.  I had the courage to admit my mistake and I changed.  Change is coming and it is good.

Iraq: Who Couldn’t See This Coming?

©2014 James Montgomery Studios

©2014 James Montgomery Studios

        Yeah, there’s trouble in Iraq and it looks like the country is going up in flames. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But at the same time, if you couldn’t see, as Bush bullshitted his way into an unnecessary war, that events were inevitably going to take this turn, you are either willfully blind or stupid. There really is no middle ground. I have been saying this was going to happen since long before Bush was out of office; the “surge” couldn’t change it, but the apologists have come out of the woodwork, nevertheless, to rationalize their lies and placate their jingoistic base. Without a constant American presence in Iraq, a lasting peace was not sustainable and who wants to maintain a constant U.S. presence? What was fomented in Iraq was dishonest and futile and – let’s say it – in vain; the blood and treasure spent to prosecute this war was wasted. All that was accomplished was the fanning of the flames of unrest and only an arrogant fool thinks that can be controlled.

        So now the usual suspects, John McCain, the eternal warmonger, and one of my unfortunate excuses for a senator, Lindsey Graham, are among the number of Republicans making excuses for Bush’s actions while, at the same time, playing the tired old game of blaming Obama for being unable to avoid the sequence of events as they headed to their obvious conclusion; that conclusion being Shia versus Sunni violence aided by Al Qaeda insurgency from the very same Syrian factions these Republicans wanted Obama to support. Talk about wanting to have it both ways. I wonder if these guys even keep track of what they say and stand for anymore. Anyhow, let’s go back and see how we got where we are.

        Of course, as the apologists will point out, Saddam Hussein was a bad man, an oppressor of his people, an unstable presence in the Middle East, and desired a nuclear weapon capability. These accusations may be true, but they were not unique for various world leaders in 2001, just as they weren’t unique in 1988, just as they aren’t unique now. Assad, Mubarak, Qaddafi could meet most of these accusations, as well, except Mubarak was a U.S. ally, so he got a pass. And what about Saudi Arabia and Iran? Those two countries practice institutionalized oppression against their people with impunity – and let’s not forget that the World Trade Center attacks were led by Saudis, not Iraqis. The Saudis, as well as the Israelis, are our allies, so they, too, get a pass, unlike the Palestinians. Because when you’re talking about the Middle East, you inevitably have to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  If you’re a Palestinian, I wonder where the governments of Sharon and Netanyahu rate on the scale of oppressive regimes? Of course, the Arab and Israeli animosity may be so entrenched and so long-lived that the question becomes irrelevant. While maintaining a constant presence in the center of rationalizations for Mideast violence, these are two sides that continue to stalemate themselves at the negotiating table over Jerusalem by an unwillingness to compromise. Sounds like a certain political body in Washington, doesn’t it? And it is this same political body that thinks the factions in Iraq were going to get along just because we removed a “bad” man? The only roses in this scenario that Dick Cheney thought would be “thrown at the feet of liberators” are the tint of the glasses these idiots are wearing if they still believe that democracy is something that can just be shoehorned in on any group of people – especially people who have deep-seated resentments against one another. Iraq wasn’t a fight to be pursued and no amount of wishful thinking was going to allow a military solution that would keep Iraq peaceful indefinitely. Bush made the mess by creating a political vacuum and Obama was expected to clean it up with an infinite occupational force? Keep dreaming, morons, it was never going to work out the way you wanted – unless sowing chaos was what you were shooting for.

        “Congress approved it,” the apologists will say, “including the Democrats with few exceptions.” Yes, they did. That is their moment of ignominy. They should have stood up and opposed it instead of being cowards afraid of the old “unpatriotic” slur that gets thrown around so carelessly. They should have known better. They were fed a pack of lies, especially the ones Bush told in his State of the Union address, but they still should have known better and pursued the truth more diligently. Colin Powell now knows he was the point man for the circus of horseshit at the U.N. The British, French, Russians, and Israelis all reached the same conclusions? So fucking what? The U.S. was leading the intelligence charge and the intelligence didn’t pan out, so just how good was that collaboration? The results speak for themselves. To say that not confronting Hussein over U.N. sanctions would lead to further instability is pretty damn specious. Iraq, after the Gulf War, was a shell of its former self – and its former self wasn’t that great – and represented a very beatable opponent. Why not attack them over U.N. sanctions violations? Most ironic, though, is that the Republican party is the one with the constant “get out of the U.N.” mantra and they wanted to use upholding sanctions as an excuse for war? The indolence of Congress was obvious when no one called bullshit on this. I will have to give ol’ Dubya credit for playing Congress the way he did, because that’s exactly what he did. To cite U.N. sanctions as a basis for issuing threats but not having the backing of Congress would put the president in an ineffectual situation. Well, the Congress couldn’t have that – we’d look weak and stupid! So, they supported Bush and maintained their “patriotic and strong against terrorism” façade. Look where they ended up. They were weak and stupid!

        I’ve heard the cowboy boots that have the pointed toes referred to as “cockroach killers” – you can get into the corners with them. That’s all Bush, the cowboy president from Texas, was doing: taking his boots and kicking at the cockroaches. The problem is you never get many roaches and they scatter – just like Al Qaeda did – and you still have cockroaches. The Republicans want to accuse Obama of playing politics? They’ve all been playing politics all along.

Term Limits? No, Thank You.

I keep hearing the hue and cry for term limits. It is one of the most intellectually dishonest political arguments that can be made. And if you think “term limits” is a good idea, then I am talking to you. Term limits presume that a politician will be corrupt — a truly hypocritical way to think about the people you elect and then blame for living down to your preconceived notion. Term limits make the false promise that somehow new blood will be different; never mind what they may have had to promise to get elected and to whom. But, wait…you, in effect, elected more corruptible people to replace the corrupt people — so are we supposed to believe that corruption works on some kind of magical timetable that adherence to a constitutional mandate will remedy? Will we avoid political malfeasance? Of course not! So what have we gained through term limits if we do not insist that the rascals be thrown out when they offend anyway? Term limits solve nothing.

The call for term limits is nothing more than the bleating of an electorate that doesn’t want to take responsibility for the choices it makes (oh, please don’t make me vote for Strom Thurmond again! whimper ). I don’t agree with the 22nd Amendment, but I understand why it was enacted. The end result is inevitably that I will be denied the right to vote for the candidate I support because the expiration date came due regardless of performance.

I care about neither man, but you can’t say that the replacements for Charlie Rangel or Barney Frank will be any better than they were, it will just be someone else — maybe someone you like. Because as long as you have a party system that insists upon adherence to the party line, well… a rose is a rose is a rose. And nothing, then, has really changed except voting ratios. And if term limits do not assure in any meaningful way a means to better, honest, and open governance, then what do they truly accomplish?

The only things that will affect change in Washington is cutting off the influence of monied interests and limiting power of elected officials and agencies and paying attention to what those elected officials and agencies are doing. You know what truly makes a difference? Accountability. Without accountability, term limits are just so much symptom-treating without addressing the real problems and haven’t we had enough of that? Do we have the courage to actually insist that our elected officials work for us rather than for whomever has the biggest wallet?

Ode To the Napster Generation: Part Deux

©2012 James Montgomery

Well, the battle had been joined over the SOPA/PIPA legislation and the people “won” and the bad, bad legislators in Washington retreated back to the dens of inequity from which they came. This is not a defense about the legislation itself – it was flawed and over the top (God help us if the word “draconian” is going to be overused like the word “disenfranchised”) – this is a proverbial pointing-of-the-finger at the dimwits who actually were defending stealing images as “fair use.” As a content creator myself, I see this entire argument as one about honesty and value and I don’t feel that anything was “won.”

Much of the argument against SOPA was couched in the fear of governmental control of the internet; a fear that I share. However, the other part of the argument sounds like people who are ignorant of copyrights (deliberately or otherwise) or the disingenuous rationalizations of those who just want something for nothing: a true American value. I have read one of the most ignorant comments about SOPA I have ever seen about anything – that once something is on the internet, it is free. Nothing could be further from the truth and it doesn’t take a “circle C” to make it legal. If you didn’t create it, it isn’t yours. Period. It isn’t up to you to decide what you can or cannot do with the material in question. It isn’t yours and all the right-clicking in the world doesn’t change that fact. This is no different than plagiarizing from an encyclopedia to write a term paper or a comedian who tells jokes that came from some other comedian’s act. It is stealing. It is stealing because you took something that you have no right to and used it to enrich yourself, whether it is to make you seem like a more clever writer, artist, or comedian than you actually are or to make your blog more visually interesting through someone else’s artwork. And this is where “value” comes into play.

As the old marketing aphorism, that I despise, says, “Perception is reality.” So why would someone upload a pirated Led Zeppelin video, for example, to YouTube or use a photo on their blog that they did not have permission to use? Because it enhances the perceived value of their presence, whether through more views on YouTube (which can, in fact, turn into money if you are in a partnership with them) or draw people to your blog article just as an interesting cover photo does for a magazine. Whether you are charging for your services or not – and isn’t that an ironic thought: stealing copyrighted work so you can make money – the bottom line is that you perceived value from what you took. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you think that Led Zeppelin is rich enough, so this won’t hurt them financially. Led Zeppelin has been around a long time and certainly has had a chance to make their money (the record company, as well), but you can claim that until you are blue in the face and it will never change the fact that you had no rights to do ANYTHING with their music or video! The simple rule is this: if you didn’t create it or have permission to use it, it’s not yours to do with what you will. Period. Yes, it is just that simple. And, yes, there are exceptions for critical review or commentary, but that isn’t what this is, so don’t hand me that BS!

So now we have the apprehension of some jokers who were running an outfit called MegaUpload.com and they were doing, from what I gather, pretty much exactly what Napster was doing before they got their pee-pees whacked. The site exists solely for the unfettered exchange of copyrighted material by those who have no rights whatsoever to ownership or distribution. They knew what they were allowing and they were making money off of it and the people who were utilizing the site didn’t care about stealing or anybody else’s rights. They only cared about what they themselves wanted. As much as anything, that mindset is as big a problem as the actual violation of copyrights and ownership. When you don’t care about fairness, creator rights, or the law, you are encouraging criminality and, at the very least, a disrespect for the creators of that thing you value enough to steal. What MegaUpload was involved in was deliberate and it was criminal and I hope they are punished to the fullest extent of the law and I hope it hurts – a lot.

The internet is not the marketplace for the untalented or the lazy. I can go on and on about the dreck that is music sampling and the dishonesty of places like YouTube who claim to honor artistic integrity while not truly policing their site, or the habitual laziness of people who can’t or won’t hinder their brains with grammar or spelling concerns, but I may save that for another article, but it’s all cut from the same cloth of laziness. If you can write and you need an illustration for your piece, draw it yourself. If you can’t draw, find someone who can. If it means that much to have a picture, do it right and don’t steal somebody else’s work to enhance your own. You should also expect to have your original work respected and not co-opted by thieves who claim they are “giving you attention.” They are only in it for themselves. And if you are thinking to yourself “if I do it, it won’t make any difference. I’m just one person,” congratulations on your own insignificance in your own mind – that kind of thinking is how water and air get polluted. Doing the right thing has nothing to do with how small you think you are. Just remember: one person thought enough about SOPA to organize a protest … and where did that lead?

As wrong-headed as the SOPA legislation was, it was introduced for a reason: there is a problem.  Here’s another aphorism: “It’s not a crime if you don’t get caught.” That’s the kind of thinking that comes from greedy corporatists and corrupt politicians – just the kind of people that the railing against SOPA was supposed to oppose. Could this actually be just a case of the-pot-calling-the-kettle-black?

*For Part Une of the Napster Generation: Visit my article, Putting A Value On Value

©2012 James Montgomery