An exchange of ideas for an effective, fair and fully functioning democratic

Freedom equals social responsibility plus individual accountability. Good government requires nothing more than these two factors, yet we democratic nations around the world neglect one or the other, in favour of a focus on the remaining ingredient. Capitalistic approaches shun social responsibility, preferring, instead, to lean on free markets to drive growth and success. Socialist approaches ignore the merits of individual accountability as a driving force in shaping good governance. Look to the American system to see the dynamics of the former ideology in play, or to much of the European continent to observe the emphasis on the latter concept. Both experience monumental failures and significant successes. This blog intends to explore alternative ideas and mechanisms to the either/or approach to freedom. We eagerly anticipate feedback, guest blogger articles, comments and ideas from you, the reader. Please take the time to register, as well, and, hopefully, we can not only share ideas, but work together to implement change!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Are More Gun Laws Needed, Or Do We Need More Accountability?

Once again, Americans are confronted with the dilemma of relinquishing their claim to gun ownership and acting responsibly when it comes to firearms control.  The battle of gun rights versus gun control always appears to be framed as a win/lose confrontation and almost invariably causes proponents for either position to become entrenched in their beliefs.  This unfortunate reality is that there is no need to turn the debate into one of absolutes. 
Most countries have enacted laws and regulations to control the use of guns, and many to limit ownership of guns.  Advocates of less regulation of firearms may cite statistics that show that violent crime still exists in countries like Canada and England, where gun laws are more restrictive than in the USA.  However, while violence is prevalent in every country, death by gunfire is less common in those countries that place limitations on the use and sale of guns.  While the American right to bear arms has its origins in the British Bill of Rights from the 1600s, England gradually ahs restricted that right.  Canada has vascillated between greater freedom to won guns and greater restrictions.
In Great Britain, police still do not carry guns as a routine practice, yet law enforcement works remarkably well. One of the reasons may be that every criminal knows that he will not face the risk of being shot while committing a crime.  Certainly, the victim of a crime may wish he had the ability to defend himself, but his life is in less jeopardy, since the criminal does not begin in a life-and-death defensive position.  In the USA, the need to defend property often is justification for deadly force.  It is neither wrong or right in comparison to Canada and the UK.  It simply is a different perspective.  Property is paramount in the USA, while safety and civil calm seems to be paramount in some other jurisdictions.
However, the current vociferous debate on gun control is a misplaced argument.  It is true that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  But it is also true that people without guns are far less likely to be able to kill than those with guns, so guns become enablers in the hands of the wrong people.  A problem arises in defining who the wrong people may be, and the right to bear arms is not qualified in a rider that defines restrictions.  This is where reasonableness enters the picture.
A second issue in this debate involves authority.  While the federal Congress contemplates gun control laws, it is relatively powerless to require each state to enforce any regulations that Congress passes, since the authority remains with individual states.  Thus, cooperative effort will be required to not only devise appropriate laws, but to get all states to act upon them.  This will be an onerous task.
The prevailing opinion, both of the NRA and the anti-gun lobbyists, appears to be that it would be reasonable to restrict access to guns by those with a serious, relevant mental disability or incapacity.  That is the basis, for example, in Canada’s screening process for gun acquisition permits.  But, as shown in several gun violence incidents in recent years, keeping the hands out of a mentally unstable person is an onerous task.  Just because there is a mental problem does not mean that the perpetrator of violence is incapable of creative actions to acquire a gun, legally or otherwise.
The only choice that remains, then, is to make owners more accountable for their firearms, while not restricting the right to own.  Ownership also can be extrapolated to gun manufacturing, which is not protected by the Second Amendment.
First, let us look at gun manufacturing.  Currently, no citizen has the right to own nuclear weapons, yet are they not arms?  Laws that protect against threats to the public reasonably disallow us to manufacture or own such weapons of mass destruction.  Those companies that manufacture armaments are tightly regulated.  However, the USA has chosen not to limit, for the most part, the type of guns that can be constructed and sold to the public.  If firearms manufacturers were barred from selling specific types of guns to the public (and only to law enforcement), then part of the concern over assault weapons would be eliminated. (However, since millions of assault rifles currently are legally owned by citizens, this tactic would have minimal effect). Congress could, however, be proactive by restricting the sale of new lines of weaponry that have similar effect, and by limiting the types of ammunition used. So, restricting gun manufacture will have limited impact.
The second, and most viable option for effective gun control would be to work with the individual states to enact “responsibility” laws regarding the handling of weaponry.  Under the “public peace” concept of common law, the federal government would have more jurisdiction, particularly where interstate travel that violates the legislation is involved.
Instead of limiting gun ownership more severely, make each owner individually responsible for his or her guns.  The concept of individual rights is an integral component of the American psyche, and the logical extension of rights is obligations.
One way of doing this would be to require that no gun be transported loaded (without special permit, not special reason), and that every gun, concealed or otherwise, be protected by an effective trigger-locking mechanism that enables only the owner to access the lock.  Ideally, a fingerprint activated lock, or a unique, restricted keying system should be required.  In the case, for instance, of the Newtown killings, the son would not have been able to use his mother’s guns readily if they had been protected in this manner. Those owners that violate the proposed laws should be subject to automatic incarceration (not unlike many states’ drinking-and-driving laws) for a period of time, with very strenuous jail time as the ultimate penalty.
Laws governing how we handle and store guns do not interfere with our right to bear arms, and offer a reasonable compromise on access and availability.  They still provide us with the ability to protect ourselves from crime, but also protect us from our own knee-jerk reactions that may cost us injury or death at the hands of someone committing a crime against us.  Other, less lethal options like pepper spray and immobilizers already provide us with the ability to create the delay between intent and action on the part of a criminal, and allow us the ability to respond with gun use, if necessary.  A fingerprint-activated lock, for instance, would be able to open with a second or two when needed by the owner, but would be unavailable to other users indefinitely.
It is time, not for compromise, but for reasonableness that echews dogma and arbitrary positions on gun ownership.  Making owners responsible and accountable is reasonable and doable.  Few should cry out against such actions, and perhaps we can start on the journey to reducing unnecessary violence and death at the hands of irresponsible and incapacitated violent actors.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I Want To Be The Last Male Dinosaur

Today’s man wears designer suits, visits the massage parlour to relieve muscle aches and softens his delicate skin with an array of exquisite products. Yesterday’s man had leather skin on his neck, brawled, belched, and wore his workday blues every day.  Today’s man cries at tender movie scenes, attends his support group and cooks gourmet meals for his children.  Yesterday’s man knew nothing of healthy and boring diets, drank beer with his buddies after work every day and punched his friend on the shoulder to show he was there for him.  Yesterday’s man is a dinosaur, almost as extinct as the woolly mammoth.  I want to be the last male dinosaur.

When I awake before dawn, I want to hear the scratch of callouses on the wood floor when I walk in bare feet. I want to count the nicks and cuts on my hands and arms after a long day of labour (just so I will know that I have worked hard), and feel the ache in my back, without having to tell a masseuse about it.

This dinosaur wants to enjoy the wrinkles that age brings, without worrying which colour of manscara hides my age. As the last dinosaur, I will shave every other week, even if I feel like I don’t need it.

I want to put my tools to good use: to use my pliers to pull my own rotted tooth (or at least the one that is most rotted), to trim my toenails with side cutters, to use my tool chest as a footstool and my engine stand as a coffee table. To be sure that I get the most out of those tools, I need to fix my own car and my own house, instead of calling a specialist tradesman.

For fun, and to develop my own unique talents, I want to learn to burp the national anthem (using popcorn farts is baby work!). Every evening, I will watch Country Fried Home Videos and wish I had thought of doing that.  On nights when the CFHV show is not airing, I will watch, for the fortieth or fiftieth time, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour DVD.  I promise to laugh at every joke that Larry the Cable Guy tells.

Aging is for sissies.  Even though my brittle bones break easily now, I need to feel the hurt of a hockey body check, the pain of a torn knee in a football game. While waiting at the batter’s plate for the agonizingly slow arc of a softball pitch I long for the sting of a hardball smacking into my bare hands.

The old ways are the best. A real man feels the bite of a cold winter day, in an ice-fishing shack, while wearing his old work coveralls instead of a $600 snowsuit. 

The old clothes are the best, too.  Every five years, I need to remind myself to take my one suit out of the closet, just to reassure myself that it is still in style and still fits, sort of.

But even where it doesn’t fit, an old-style man knows that bigger is better, particularly when it applies to bellies, houses, trucks and tools. Loud is the only volume for voices, truck mufflers and parties. More is macho and “green” is the same as pink for real men.

A real man – a dinosaur man – does have feelings, though.  As the last male dinosaur, I feel that God wanted us to be Christian, and it is my duty to set anyone straight who thinks, wrongly, or who thinks that any other religion is acceptable.  I understand that the only definition of “gay’ is to be donned in that type of Christmas apparel, or to be happy.

I feel that it is unkind to talk with someone about her feelings, since that will only make her feel those feelings more.  A dinosaur should never talk about his or his partner’s feelings.

If a dinosaur man should never discuss his feelings (unless he feels that politicians are asses or feels that his football team is the best in the world), then he should, most certainly, never use Twitter to tell everyone that “OMG, I just did (this, or did that). Because everyone really shouldn’t care!  And, if Twitter is taboo, then Face Book is, too.  Unless it is used to show hilarious and embarrassing photos of friends. 

Although I want to be the last male dinosaur, modern living has forced me to make some concessions.  I still want to do another Dukes of Hazard car jump (but, this time, not in my Prius). I still can pull a fish out of the lake (so long as I do not have to bait the hook or kill a worm to do it).  Today, though, I put it back in the water, because it has the right to live. This autumn, I want to go deer hunting with my old best friend from my teenage years, but I will bring a camera instead of a gun. That way, I will not have to look into the brown, pained eyes of the dying buck as it kicks its last kick. To celebrate my spectacular shooting, I intend to eat a huge steak, but I hope that I never actually have to kill the steer that provided a slab of its flesh for me to gnaw on.

I do want to be the last male dinosaur, but I want to be a more modern fossil.  I want to improve me, and to teach my children and my grandchildren that a real dinosaur can be contemporary.

I will always stand up to the bully that is harassing someone weaker than he, and teach him the lesson that a real man doesn’t abuse someone else.

I love to see my sons hold the door open for a woman, not because she can’t do it herself, but because he wants to show consideration and deference to her. 

It is important to show my grandkids that we old dinosaurs were wrong when they looked after our greed, at the expense of others’ need.

I will learn from my son that any decent man always considers others’ feelings to be important, not his own.

Even though this modern dinosaur is an atheist, I want you to know that I believe that God may or may not exist, but who am I to judge those who believe differently than I do?

As the last dinosaur, I am surprised to learn that “gay” really is a great word for homosexual behaviour, if that really is what makes that person happy.  I also am amazed to I know that I accept that he or she is just as good a person or friend, whether he is gay or straight.

It brings a warm feeling to my heart to know that all of my children will help someone in need, even when it is inconvenient for them.  It is astonishing to know that this small dinosaur brain can absorb these new concepts.

In accepting that new concepts are not bad concepts, I will use Twitter to learn about a wonderful new idea or way of doing things, and to share my thoughts with others, who may enlighten me further. Then, I will sign on to my FaceBook account to communicate by hearing, not talking. 

Enlightened thinking allows this male fossil to understand my partner’s feelings better, and to get in touch with my own, so that I can be a better person.

I feel, for example, that responsible, considerate consumption is every man’s duty.

I am learning that we should treat everyone with the respect they deserve, and appreciate even the little things that this world offers – the pleasant and the unpleasant, too. 

And it brings me to tears to see prejudice, injustice, unfairness and inconsideration in any form, against any person.

I am, truly, the last male dinosaur.  Just colour me purple and call me Barney.

I Would Never Fight For My Country

I would never fight for my country.  There is no speck of soil, no fabric of flag and no bogus border that is worth shedding blood, taking a life, maiming another human. Such treasonous beliefs speak, for many, of a coward.

You are free to call me such.  I am now older, having seen the bulk of my years pass by, in a country where I can boast of freedoms and rights, privileges and advantages not afforded the majority of this earth.  Yet, I reiterate: I would not fight for my country now, nor would I have done so in my youth.    

Worldwide wars have been fought to claim turf, expand territory and assert proclaimed rights to new boundaries.  Millions have died in defence of a flag, in promotion of a religious cause, to spread a political ideology.  Man has fought and killed neighbours and friends, in the name of supporting another friend, or to pre-empt an anticipated attack or invasion.  Lies have been told, to woo the masses to follow the thrust of attack, to support the cause.  Merely desecrating a flag, insulting a leader or religious icon or denigrating a belief have been justifications for death and legitimized murder.

Yet, I have fought.  One on one, one on many.  I have fought thousands of times, sometimes for sport, sometimes to assist a friend, sometimes in the line of work.  So why would I refuse to fight for my country?

Warfare, in years long ago, was honourable.  There were no incidents of “friendly fire.”  There was always a righteous reason to do battle, made more righteous through victory.  There was no question that there was a moral side, and an immoral one. Gore and hideous wounds and slow painful deaths were remote, removed from our sensibilities.  We knew that communism was wrong, that oppressive colonizers (or rebellious colonies) should be thrust aside (or repressed), that dictators should be punished, that borders should be defended.  No media coverage tainted the purity of our battles.

Modern warfare meets none of the criteria for honour and dignity.  Our own forces commit immoral acts against prisoners of war and, more horrifically, against innocent women and children.  The moral high ground is capitulated, when mercenary aims become apparent.  The bright light of the camera illuminates atrocities initiated by our own allies.  Billions of dollars are redirected from humanitarian needs to fight war.  Politicians engage us in unjust undertakings, feeding us false information to garner our support, operate based on their own biases, and seek ways to line their pockets through unwarranted wars.

Yet, we judge the rest of the world, and find it flawed, according to our standards.  Our response? To force our will upon others, less illuminated than we are.

Public poll upon public poll reveal that we – the vast majority of us citizens – don’t agree with our government’s policies and practices.  Our civilization is corrupted by narcissistic greed, class disparity and corruption.  Those of us north of the 49th parallel look to the USA, and cannot fathom that, a mere forty-five years ago, blacks were considered less than human.  Yet, in our own nation, the residential school fiasco and Indian forced assimilation practices created our own unique world of racist values. Poverty is the hallmark of the disenfranchised – disenfranchised because of policies that denied opportunity for equality to millions.

The world looks to the west as the epitome of opportunity, yet hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are victimized by crime each year; millions in the USA. Murder is commonplace, and cities crumble as the American dream of home ownership is throttled.  We decry our wasted tax dollar, and demand more services than ever before.  We struggle to climb the socio-economic ladder, trodding on those less fortunate as we climb.

So why would I fight for my country?  I repeat: I would not.

Yet, I am fiercely proud of the society in which I live.  It is not a world of artificial borders and synthetic governments, however.  It is a world of people of every belief, each granted the right to hold those beliefs, in a country where the right to one’s opinion is engrained.  It is a venue where we see our flaws, and struggle, each day, to become better.  It is an environment where we are not only encouraged to be better, but are provided with the opportunity to learn and grow, and contribute to the growth of this planet.  It is a society where the individual matters, but each individual has a duty to care for those around him – the less fortunate and the blessed.  It is a culture that says that we can resent differences, abhor values that we view as unworthy, speak emphatically against ways of life and styles or mannerisms that we reject. Yet, it is a civilization in which we, in our hearts, would not trade away or relinquish the rights of others to look and be different, would not want our cultural diversity diluted, would not allow any of our neighbours to be deprived of choice and freedom, would not want a country where each of us was less than equivalent (yet not precisely equal) to every other citizen.

No, our country is not great.  Our country is not worth fighting for.  It is the people within those artificially immutable boundaries for whom I would fight.  I would fight for their right to choice, for their right to freedom.  I would lay down my life to fight for the right to embrace the world of differences that is our great nation.  No, I would not fight for my country, nor for the flag.  But I would breathe my last breath to defend my friends and neighbours, and their right to not be me, to not think like me, to not agree with me.

My country is not defined by a shoreline, or latitude and longitude.  It is defined by the wonderful collage of Canadians, from every corner of the world.  And it is this country of which I am proud, and would gladly defend.