Campus Carry at UT-Austin


Fifty years to the day that Charles Whitman climbed the UT tower and carried out what was, until last month, the worst mass shooting in modern US history, the University of Texas at Austin will implement a Campus Carry policy that allows students 21 and older to carry concealed weapons on campus, in accordance with Texas law.
I can’t thank Professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore, and Mia Carter enough for standing up to this. I will also add that as a student I share their concerns. I would feel intimidated by a student carrying a weapon in the classroom and feel it would inhibit free and open discussion of sensitive subjects, thereby limiting the education I have paid for and have come to expect.
Furthermore, while I may be able to hold my tongue if I sense danger, I will be unable to prevent another student from saying something that may upset the carrying student.
Students are under pressure. Many are not experienced in handling the pressures presented by exams and grades, academic and career expectations, the pressures of being a young adult and the attendant challenges of living away from home, financial stresses, social and romantic entanglements, and more. This is often the most volatile and emotional stage of a person’s life. And the law now states that we can allow them to carry concealed weapons to class.
This is a rights issue and I believe the State of Texas has violated my rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that by implementing Campus Carry the University of Texas at Austin has fallen short in at least two of its core principles.
I would like to know how many students feel the same way. Are there enough students to recruit a legal team to sue to uphold our rights also? IS there a legal team willing to launch a challenge on our behalf? Would refusing to sit in a class with a student carrying a weapon put me in breach of my academic contract, or would it force UT and the State of Texas to rethink?
I don’t know the answers. I only know this is a major concern for me.
EDITED FOR ACCURACY – 7/7/16

Brexit is as Brexit does


leave remainI’ve spent the last day shocked, angry, and bamboozled by the EU referendum, and the choice that a majority of British citizens, of which I am one, have made. I am still trying to understand it but the process is hindered by waves of consuming rage at what, I believe, is a reactive decision to self-destruct, fueled by anger, fear, hatred, xenophobia, dangerous nationalism, and stupidity. I can’t understand it because I can’t escape the realization that it is unfair to blame this decision on stupid people.

Ultimately, and we’ve seen this since the result was finalized, the general consensus is that the British people have made a dreadful decision based on the inability to find, understand, and analyze information. In Britain, Google has seen a spike in searches to explain what the EU is and what the consequences of leaving it are. There are many seemingly key questions that have come a little too late about what the impact of a Brexit would be, such as, “If we leave the EU, will we still get our EU subsidies?” And then there is a bottomless social media goldmine of uninformed opinion and flat out idiocy. And, of course, we have the usual demographic breakdown that tells us that a large number of Brexiters are poor, uneducated, and unemployed, and live on the council estates and in the rundown areas of cities and semi-rural that have been left behind in the UK’s post-industrial society. The implication, again, is clear: if they’re poor, they’re uneducated. Unsophisticated. Stupid.

Perhaps some of them are, because despite the fact that information has never been more available, more accessible, society seems to be getting dumber. Despite the fact that a few hours of Internet searching and the briefest application of critical thought could produce an informed opinion on almost anything, we seem to be more reliant on a loudmouth media mentality. The traditional media has subverted its position by reinventing itself as a megaphone for its owners, spouting their opinions as independent facts, while social media has become the white noise of data distortion and misinformation. Is it any surprise that people are stupid when they are encouraged to be so?

It seems unfair and unwarranted to blame stupid people for this decision for other reasons too. We have had two generations of Tory, Tory-lite, and Tory-Lib governments that have made it a priority to suppress its people. There is no government on this planet that welcomes a well-informed electorate able to present counter-argument, able to incisively dissect official statements and political platforms, and willing, if necessary, to present viable opposition by running for office. In the UK this is evidenced by political actions that have illustrated elite attitudes to the populace.  Thatcher, Blair, Cameron, and their governments have conducted a cynical, clinical campaign to create an ideal constituency for their continued rule.

The last 35 years read like a Machiavellian textbook. Destroy the unions. Deregulate industry. Privatize national resources. Make education inaccessible and expensive. Deregulate the media and deliver it into a small number of elite-friendly owners. Destroy benefits, remove the social safety net, underfund everything and use the tax money saved to offer corporate welfare to cronies and old school chums, and then, when the NHS has been run into the ground, introduce more fear by blaming the immigrants, the poor, and the welfare scroungers. Encourage your media chums to do the same. And when it is all done, you will have a population too stupid, too insecure, too busy with its own misery to understand who they feel like lashing out at.

Wales voted out. Wales, a country made of coal, voted out because the UK imports Polish coal. Cornwall wants its EU development funds but lashes out at the EU and votes for Brexit. Sunderland, sick and tired of having become a forgotten, deprived wasteland when it was once a major industrial force, blames the EU and votes out. Fishermen vote out because they blame EU quotas, forgetting that sustainability quotas were introduced to protect the resource from being fished out, forgetting that the North Sea doesn’t belong to the UK alone, forgetting that by voting out, they have voted to have almost no market at all. Workers, pissed at working conditions, layoffs, and the introduction of zero-hour contracts, blame the EU, which is the only governing body that has, for 40 years, stood between them and the British government stripping its own workers of all its rights.

Oh, but we just don’t like all those laws that Brussels forces on us. We want to sovereignty of our own statute books. Except we do. We have vetoes and negotiations, and of all the laws introduced by the EU, the British have had their say and have voted no on only a tiny percentage. But we don’t want to be ruled by unelected EU officials, says a population that accepts rule by a minority government, by coalition, and by an unelected PM and an unelected upper chamber House of Lords.

All the complaints that people have are about things that are, and always have been, under the purview of the London-based, UK-elected government. Union destruction, inner-city decline, failing infrastructure, workers rights, declining industries, a dying NHS, lack of social housing, banking and mortgage crises, everything, has been something the elected UK government could have done something about. And chose not to. But let’s lash out at the EU because it’s all Europe’s fault.

And their immigrants.

Britain is a country that needs immigrants to boost a sagging, aging population, immigrants that bring a net gain to the UK’s coffers, immigrants that bring industrial, technical, and academic expertize and cultural wealth. Immigrants have become a vital part of the backbone of the NHS, even as successive governments have torn the flesh from its ailing body. Immigrants have become our doctors and nurses because children in the UK don’t have the access or means to become doctors and nurses. Immigrants, who clog up our ER waiting rooms and take our hospital beds, contribute more per capita to the tax fund than the British-born population. Why are we not asking where that money is going instead of blaming them? And when we close the EU borders, we’ll still have a steady flow of immigrants from elsewhere. If we were full and creaking under the weight of immigration, why did we not cut off the 50% of immigrants from outside the EU? We could have done it any time we wanted. We had control of those borders.

But maybe it’s not an immigrant problem, but a skin problem. A darker skinned kind of problem. Maybe the problem is that we don’t like non-white, non-English speaking immigrants, like those that generally live outside the EU. Wait… what? Congratulations. If you’re white and your reasons were secretly racist, guess what? You just voted for more dark-skinned immigrants. Immigrants that, in years to come, will be propping up your pensions and benefits while they pay taxes and commit less crime then the “native” UK population. Once again, a Brexit vote is a vote against exactly the wrong people to blame for whatever ails you.

It’s all very well sitting here blaming stupid people and racists for a Brexit vote, but the fact is that this is the product of some very clever people indeed. This is the result of nearly five decades of well-crafted, cynical social engineering. While I do think that perhaps, and with the possible exception of Nigel Farage, this has been a political game that backfired somewhat. For Cameron it was a process of appeasement of the Euro-skeptics of his party, like Johnson and Gove, to ensure his continued leadership; and a game of chessboard politics to create a close vote in favor of Remain in order to force further concessions from Brussels for Britain’s well-padded seat at the EU table.

For Johnson, I’m not entirely sure he wanted to Brexit to win either. I think this was a Conservative Party insurgency, a British Tea Party, and that his campaign would create a groundswell that would sweep him to No. 10. I doubt he wants to be the man to press the Article 50 button.

As for Farage, I really don’t want to say what I think his aims were. Less than a week after Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed by a Britain First maniac angry at her support for EU membership, Farage grinned on national TV and said that “independence” from the EU had been won without a shot being fired. Even for an extremely unpleasant campaign that mimicked Nazi posters and skirted and sometimes crossed the lines of bigotry and racism, this was beyond the pale.

Farage aside, if this is a backfired stunt that should have been an intricate and well-managed game of political brinksmanship with the EU that would further enrich the elite of Westminster and London, it was a very stupid game indeed. A game that has wiped trillions off the stock markets, destroyed the country’s credit rating, created a toxic atmosphere of racism and bigotry, and made the UK the Yoko of Europe’s Beatles.

And so, perhaps stupid people are to blame after all. Very well educated, very well informed, very wealthy, and very, very stupid people.

 

Animals


It started before we were even dead. While we pulled crushed blue bodies from a sea of red and carried them on advertising hoardings to the field, the authorities were already giving statements to the press that we were drunk, unruly; that we robbed our dead, spat at the police, and pissed on the injured. The smell of sweat and urine from dead, dying and injured Scousers didn’t stop us. We pulled lifeless children from the crowd and willed them to breathe. We hoisted unconscious bodies over high fences to safety, or give them room to die. We gave the kiss of life to those that no longer needed it. Broke down the barriers that penned us in. We were livestock, faces pushed into the bars, searching for air to fill lungs that had no room to breathe it in.

 

Read the published article on the Guardian website.

Pope Opens Charity Shoeshine


Pope Francis makes a buck or two shining shoes for charity
Pope Francis makes a buck or two shining shoes for charity

POPE OPENS SHOESHINE – Vatican City, Vatican – Under fire for demanding tithes, alms, and works of charity from those least able to afford it to solve poverty, hunger, and the Syrian refugee crisis, Pope Francis, whose religious organization sits on untold wealth and owns empty palaces around the world, has responded by opening a charity shoeshine.


“Jesus washed feet at little more than cost,” said the Pontiff. “If he could make the business model work, then we must believe that His church can do the same.”
 
The Catholic Church’s wealth is a closely guarded secret but estimates suggest it nets almost a $1B per week in American donations alone. The Holy See, which has an annual worldwide expenditure of $170B, has long been criticized for hoarding its wealth while demanding charitable works of others.
 
“If we can raise a few bucks by cleaning shoes,” Frankie the Pope continued, “then every Catholic in the world can spend a few minutes a day in service to others, working for tips, and donating the earnings to me. Once we have the cash, our bankers can oversee God’s work to eliminate hunger and disease and all that shit.”
 
The Vatican Bank manages assets worth more than $6B for its 17,400 customers and has a long history of opacity and scandal.
Financial statements are, of course, available (see here: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2015/07/16/0577.pdf) but be aware that non-adherence to banking regulations means that no one has a clear picture of the net worth of this popular global religion.
 
Check back in 2017 to see if the Pope’s bankers report the income from Francis’ new shoeshine biz!

The War at Home


30 people were shot and murdered today. There were 30 more shot and murdered yesterday. And 30 the day before. The death tally for gun murders this week is 210. By the end of the year, 11,000 Americans will be shot and murdered… by Americans. 200 unarmed Americans will be shot and murdered by the police in 2015. It was the same in 2014, and it will be the same in 2016.
Yes, let’s mourn the victims of the recent atrocities in Paris, and Syria, and Beirut, and Baghdad, and Istanbul, and Kenya. Let’s add flags to our Facebook profiles. Lets unite in prayer, or silent contemplation, and shake our heads at the inhumanity of extremism. It’s right that we should mourn such a terrible loss.
Then, when the next news cycle starts, let us remember that we can’t even have a debate on gun control in America. Let’s remember that 45,000 people a year die in America because of a lack of affordable healthcare. Let’s defund planned parenthood because someone’s God said so. Let’s stop welfare because we must learn to help ourselves. Let’s raise retirement ages so we can work ourselves into the grave. Let’s refuse workers a living wage but let them spend $1 in every 5 on health insurance. Let’s allow half a million insured Americans a year to go bankrupt due to illness. Let’s regress tax laws along the lines of biblical tithing and make the wealthy even wealthier. Let’s price everyone but the wealthy out of education.

And then, let’s build a wall around us to keep others out of this paradise we’ve made.

Finally, when we’re done with mourning the dead, and our thoughts turn to revenge; when we look for someone to blame, mete punishment out to, and extract justice from; when we go to war to kill those extremists that would kill us, let’s remember who is killing us.

We are.

Un-American


Gun ownership is a fetish; it is beyond rational thought; beyond logic. Weapons companies have got some of the most powerful lobbyists in the country in their pocket, including the commanders of the armed forces who manage budgets, the NRA, and almost every freedom-loving, constitutionalist in the middle and south of the country. Wanna talk gun control? Second Amendment, motherfucker. It’s sanctified like it was handed down from god or Ronald Reagan and enshrined in their pantheon, unassailable and perfect. What these fetishists fail to acknowledge is that this Constitution that they love so much has 27 Amendments and that, after the first 10 (the Bill of Rights), there were 17 more times in our history that America decided the Constitution was wrong. Three of them for the abolition of slavery and establishment of citizenship rights, one that gave women the right to vote, one to lower the voting age to 18, one to set term limits, etc. In other words, the Constitution is known to have been wrong or inadequate and has been corrected many times, and yet people wave it around, written in a little pocket book, and cry foul anytime the subject of limiting gun ownership comes up.

There are three ways to stop gun crime in this country, or at least bring it to a level more in line with almost every other developed country, and none of them will work.

The first way is to ban gun ownership, ban the sale and manufacture of personal weapons, and put personal weapons manufacturers out of business. But, even if you ever got those laws written and implemented, as of 2014 there were an estimated 310 million handguns, shotguns and rifles in private ownership in America. People will not give them up in a hurry, if ever at all. If it is to work, it must be a generational thing. Act now to ban them and it will take at least 50 years before you see any major impact on ownership, private sales, better background checks, etc. But is this the answer? People will still want their guns. Criminals will want guns, especially when no one else has them. Hunters want guns. People who live in the country who need to protect themselves from natural threats like bears and snakes and unionized wasps need them. Even if we eliminate gun ownership rights, people will still have guns and will still use them.

The second way is to have an event so terrifying, so horrific and tragic and scary, that there will be a sea change in American’s feelings about gun ownership rights. A handful of kids shot dead by a psycho in a playground won’t do it. A congresswoman shot in the head at an election event won’t do it. Reporters gunned down on television won’t do it. We’ve seen that already and we’ve sighed and shrugged and collectively said, “Well, what can you do, eh?” No, if Americans are ever going to be shocked into accepting any form of gun control Draconian enough to force their elimination, force the hunters to take up catapults and pea-shooters, force the “sportsman” into shooting with a camera instead, then the deciding event will have to be so catastrophic, so unfathomably shocking, that it beggars belief and creates an unstoppable backlash. We would have to have a tsunami of thousands of deaths, children, grandmothers, mothers, politicians, priests, civic leaders, sports teams, actors, music stars, in a compressed amount of time. It would take a year or two of indiscriminate, mass murder by a phalanx of un-related shooters or a well-armed militia, an American ISIS-like force, to ever provoke that level of sustaining, voluntary reform.

Or, maybe guns are not the problem. Maybe the problem is that we have a society whereby people feel like they need, want or deserve the right to own and use a gun.

Maybe we could forget about the guns for now and just be kind to each other. We could introduce social safety nets. We could promote unity by not letting mentally ill people die of starvation in American jail cells. We could create a society where you don’t lose everything you ever worked for because you got sick, where you couldn’t be fired at the end of the day without recourse. Where, if you work for a week, you earn at least enough to live for a week. Where unemployment benefit didn’t run out after 6 months and dump you and your family on the streets. We could create a society that took care of its ill, its elderly, its poor, its needy. We could decide that America is a place where people can learn and grow without running up a lifetime of debt. Where no one sleeps without a roof over his head unless he chooses to do so. We could raise the level of debate so that Trump and Clinton and Palin and Bush and any other double-speaking, problem avoiding, question swerving politician would never get out of the gate on an election campaign. Where all elections are centrally funded so that special interests are not picking the prettiest, most pliable candidate. Where Google and Halliburton and Boeing and Lockheed Martin have less rights than you, your neighbor, and the people that live in your street. We could prosecute the bad cops and elevate the good ones. We could create a society where death by cop isn’t preferable to life by any other means. We could create a society that doesn’t cause mental illness, that doesn’t cause despair, doesn’t generate anger, that doesn’t make us lose hope. And then, maybe, just maybe, the guns won’t matter. We’ll have a society where there are so many answers before people run out of options. But we can’t do that either, because we can’t afford it. We shouldn’t pay for it. We don’t need it. That is Socialism. Communism. It will cost too much money. It will remove the biblical freedom to fail. It will quench the fire under our asses that keeps us jumping higher. Keeps us excelling. We need competition. We need Capitalism. Coercion. Constitutionalism. It’s un-doable. Unthinkable. Un-American.

Onward


Casals
Getting better…

So this will seem weird, unnecessary and self-serving, and maybe it is but I just want to get this out there and then move on. Next week I will complete my Spanish II class with an A grade, meaning that, at 50 years old, I will have something resembling a degree. An Associates, in fact, in Creative Writing from Austin Community College. I will have a GPA of 4.0 after 90 units, 60 of which will count toward my impending bachelors in English at UT-Austin. For some of you with degrees and Masters and Doctorates, achieved long ago and perhaps long since forgotten, this may seem lame.

I don’t care. I couldn’t feel more proud.

I’ve helped put others through school, though I couldn’t afford a university education for myself when it was age-appropriate. Instead I taught myself programming and became a senior analyst programmer at HSBC, BT, and Visa. I taught myself project management and became a senior PM at several US corporations. When I got sick and was laid off, I returned to school and took a few classes and became Editor in Chief of the college newspaper and of a commercial, local newspaper. I ran and edited a magazine that has been read in over 65 countries and part-owned and helped run an import, retail and media business. I became a Corporate Communications Manager when it became necessary to return to the business world. And I did this without any university degree.

When I tell people that I am back in school, it has been with apologetic sheepishness. Yeah, I know, I’m a loser and I should have done this when I was younger. But I didn’t. For whatever reasons, illnesses, misfortunes, wicked circumstance, personal tragedies and some truly awful decision-making, I never got there. I own that, I own those choices and that difficult life and I refuse to feel guilty or sheepish about any part of it or me. Frankly, fuck that. Fuck that shame. It’s useless and detrimental and it serves no one. I’m here now, doing what I’ve promised myself I’d do for the last 30 years. I start my English Honors class at UT next month. And, in two years or less, when I’m done with that I will move on to the MFA. Then the doctorate, should I live long enough. And I will feel no shame about it, only gratitude for the extraordinary people that have helped me reach this point and will help me get to the next place. (You know who you are. Thank you, all of you!)

Onward.