Archive for March, 2009

Fuck the Police

In the days before I had received any moral training beyond, “do what we say,” I thought that police were a great way to get people to do what they should.  At that time, police brutality was simply the result of bad people not following orders.  I can’t remember any specific police abuse stories from this time.  I was never exposed to a harsher indictment of police than accusations that they spent too much time eating donuts.

By the time George Bush Sr. laid waste to Iraq and had begun starving the population, I had figured out that Republicans were using the police to convert the poor into money for the prison-industrial complex.  I don’t remember blaming the police for this–I assumed they were following the orders of 12 years worth of a republican legal appointees.  I still had in my head the Plantonic ideal of the public servant who was a different species of person–one who would eschew self-interest and would, without oversight, behave justly.

Even before I had my string of personal encounters with police, I had developed a hearty dislike for them.  This marked the high-point for my blood pressure when I would hear about police gunning down unarmed people or sodomizing prisoners with toilet plungers — like they do.

I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but I arrived at a profound understanding of a very simple truth: you cannot reliably arm someone, give them near-immunity from the law, and expect non-horrible things to happen.  The task becomes yet more difficult when you first advertise to every evil cretin that cannot hold other employment that you are looking to arm people and give them near-immunity from the law.  I understood that police brutality is like any brutality resulting from radical power disparity.  If the victim cannot disengage, the transgressions will only grow increasingly ugly and depraved.

All that to say that I am no longer shocked by cops hurting people and stealing stuff.  Nevertheless, I am, well, almost impressed by what I read at philly.com.  I heard a story about a cop, Cujdik (pronounced Kudj-DICK), who was knocking off tobacconists, convenience stores and other small businesses (all immigrant owned).  His “Narcotics Task Force” would raid the business, cut the wires to the surveillance cameras, steal merchandise and take all the cash in the store.  The charges were nonsensical–in one instance, the store owner had zip-lock bags that were classified as drug paraphanalia–and were always suspended or dropped by the judge during trial.

If reading about this kind of sick shit is your thing, as it is for me from time to time, I will save you some effort: http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/41551507.html?page=3&c=y.  I’m providing this service because I had to search through the 60+ stories at philly.com that matched the search: “police misconduct.”  Everything from judges getting 2.6 million in kickbacks for sending kids to juvenile facilities, to the myriad sex crimes committed by police, to my personal favorite, the drug dealer who joined the police force and began raiding his competitors.

I won’t be highlighting police abuse stories in the future, unless more drug dealers become cops–that’s precious.  I am still recovering from my upbringing, where all authority figures were to be obeyed unquestioningly, so I need to revisit that tendency from time to time.  The take-home lesson is not that authority must be questioned, but that authority based on violence is not authority at all.

Oh, and if you think, like I tend to, “what do you expect from Philly?” check out this tale of Texas police who extorted money, jewlery and sometimes cars from 140 mostly African-American motorists.  And they beat some of them too.

Problem Solving: Violence and Non-violence

There are two types of people in the world, those who seek non-violent solutions to a given issue and those who believe that applying violence is the best alternative to enforce their preferrences.  The difference between a couple that compromises and builds consensus versus a batterer and his/her victim is clear enough to most of us.  Likewise, a parent who explains and negotiates situations with a child stands in sharp contrast to one who threatens the child with beatings for questions or disobedience.

We in the non-violent camp understand the advantages of our position.  Negotiated solutions receive “buy-in” from all parties.  Violence breeds resentment, discord and, inevitably, more and increased violence.  Consensus respects the humanity and individuality of each human being.  Coercion creates two classes of humans, the rulers and the ruled–both degraded and incapable of the full expression of their humanity.  When examining the long-term viability of human societies, a voluntary society that works towards consent-based solutions is far more likely to reach stable and sustainable institutions.  This stability and sustainability is the bedrock for peace in human relations.  Peace provides the context for rapid improvement in the quality of life of each individual human being.  In contrast, systems based on the oppression of one class of humans over another cannot be stable.  Injustices breed resentment and a desire for vengeance.  Constantly changing power dynamics ensure that the oppressed will eventually have the physical force required to seize the engines of violence.  In this uncertain environment, long-term investment in well-being is undertaken more rarely and the store of human progress is depleted in short-term consumption.

The paradigm that many of us subscribe to maps the non-violent and the coercive to the two leading political parties.  Republicans, like a violent parent, do not wish to negotiate solutions to differences of preference.  In their opinion, broadly speaking1, “drugs are bad” and they use para-military units and the largest prison system in the history of the world to enforce this preference on their neighbors.  Likewise, they are of the opinion that, “homosexuality is bad,” and use violence to institutionally prevent a voluntary agreement from being declared between gay partners.  Internationally, the republican preference for violent solutions is legendary–this is also the arena in which the negative effects of unilateral solutions are least controversial.

According to this same paradigm, the democrats in our country prefer negotiated, consensus based solutions to problems.  The briefest leap into the position of an objective observer, however, reveals the illusory nature of this position.  We will leave aside, for this post anyway, the huge swaths of policies that the two parties share: the wars on drugs and terrorism, the handing of trillions of dollars to ueber-wealthy corporate allies, the carte blanche granted to the military and police, the imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of non-violent “offenders,” and so forth.  Let’s focus on the first issue that I can think of about which right-wing solutions are less likely to get violent than than left: gun control.

We all have an opinion about who should be armed and how well.  The “moderate” position of allowing registered weapons for hunting purposes stands toward the center of a very long spectrum.  On the one end are those who would prefer that no-one own or carry anything more weapon-like than a pocket-knife.  On the other extreme are the proponents of personal, unregistered nuclear devices–which, admittedly, might come in handy in negotiations with police.  The non-violent approach is, as always, to accord the same respect for others that you wish for yourself.  Concerns for the safety of children in an armed household can be raised and responded to in a reasonable manner.  The non-violent social disapproval that keeps most of us out of our pajamas when we visit downtown can be directed at those who make poor choices (in your opinion) about keeping and bearing arms.  Damage done due to gun negligence could be treated in the same manner as damage done due to negligence in a car.  In any case, everyone should be free to keep whatever weapons they want out of their house as well.  The quantity of solutions and services that freely cooperating individuals can generate to ease their and others’ anxiety is limitless.

In the case of gun control, progressives find themselves adopting the typically conservative stance.  This issue cannot be solved, they claim, by the organic societies of family, friends, neighbors and community.  It requires that the preference of one group be imposed on the rest by, extra-ironically in this case, very heavily armed state officials.
This is not meant to express a position on gun control, or any other issue for that matter.  I am less interested in presenting and defending my opinion about a particular topic and more interested in examining how we as a society make these decisions.  Or, to remove the collectivist lense, how we as individuals don’t make these decisions, but rather do as we’re told by individuals who claim the legitimacy to imprison or kill us.

I have opinions, sometimes strong opinions about how to dress, what to eat, what music to listen to, appropriate sexual partnerships (no invertibrates!), transportation, religion, standards of cleanliness, and what constitutes a good education.  Humanity will take a leap forward once we commit, individually, to expressing our opinions in a context of respectful negotiation.   It will make an incomprehensibly huger leap forward when we find the courage and the camaraderie to denounce as reprehensible the aggressive use of violence against non-violent people in order to enforce personal preferences and opinions.

[1] I will be speaking broadly about democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives throughout this post. Apologies ahead of time to well armed democrats and pacifist republicans.

Webery with WordPress

A couple of weeks ago, I started looking for software packages that could “host a website.”  My criteria were simplicity, since I’m not terribly web-savvy; and extensibility, because I don’t want to cobble together 3 or 4 packages to get all the features I’m looking for.  I knew that WordPress was pretty popular, and I’d heard users of the package talk about their surprise at the variety of plugins it supported.

I gave it a shot, and now consider myself to be a believer.  An expert user might be better off with a combination of stand-alone blog, wiki, and forum software.  He/she would have the chops to tie the disparate pieces together with a single theme, authentication piece and database back-end.  For the rest of us, wordpress provides an excellent blog, good-enough forum and wiki pieces, as well as automagic database administration and user authentication.

The WordPress community provides tons of modifiable ‘themes,’ which provide the overall look-and-feel for the website; and ‘plugins/widgets,’ providing added functionality from discussion forums to tagging, post-calendars, and site-search.  While the complexity for installing these extras varies, the themes and plugins I’ve played with have been trivial to install, set-up, and customize.

Although WordPress’ customizability is initially overwhelming, the defaults are typically sane.  I discovered most of the features when I wanted to make a change to the structure of a page/plugin and went about discovering how to do it.

WordPress is written in PHP.  To get a WordPress driven website up, you’ll need to find a web-hosting service that supports PHP.  The WordPress recommended host page lists webhosts who have worked with WordPress to ensure a friendly hosting environment.  I myself went with nearlyfreespeech.net, a pay-as-you-go host.  I will probably end up spending about 50 cents/month (the mySQL support required for WordPress costs 30 cents) for the forseeable future.  I may detail my experience with nearlyfreespeech in a future post.