Monday, December 31, 2007

Why a Military Draft Should be Enacted

The United States needs to institute a military draft. Many countries around the world require some sort of military service of all its' citizens, and it's about time we do, as well. While this may be an unpopular position, it is the best option to force Americans into societal participation. This effect on the general population is worth the sacrifice of mandatory military service. It would help to restore the principles upon which America was founded.

Our republic was established on the ideology that the general population has the definitive power to select leaders who will govern for the betterment of the nation. The core of the principles of democracy centers on participation of the citizenry in the decision-making process. This is accomplished through the election process. When populace is unhappy with the current state of affairs, it has the option of voting for leaders they think could make things better.
Unfortunately, our democracy has metamorphosized into something quite different, and a military draft may just help to change things for the better.

On September 11, 2001, we were attacked in a horrible way by an enemy many didn't even know existed. In the immediate aftermath, nationalism ran at a fever pitch. People from all walks of life; men and women, old and young, black and white, were willing to volunteer to contribute to the cause of response to the provocation initiated by this new enemy. Consequentially, the war in Afghanistan was met with praise as a proper response to the attacks. Patriotism was everywhere, as was the notion of supporting the troops. We were united as Americans in a way not seen since World War II.

The decisions made by our leaders in the ensuing period failed to capitalize on this state of mind for the betterment of the nation. Instead, all of that nationalism was squandered. Rather than being asked to pitch in, we were told to go about our lives and let the government handle it. "Go shopping", the President told us, and many did what they were told. Slowly, but surely, those feelings of patriotism faded.

In the subsequent months and years, the "War on Terror" became a tool used to paralyze the nation into fear, as our leaders sought to exploit the state of affairs for their own gain. The War in Iraq was the initial step in this master plan. Eventually, with the shock and awe turning into a quagmire, mass apathy began to take hold of the populace. People distanced themselves more and more from the horrors of the situation.

Fright initially persuaded many to go along with the war at first. Instead of trying to calm these feelings of fear, our leaders chose to use it as a tool to subjugate the population into mass lethargy. Our participative mission in this "Global" war was to run to the local convenience store and buy a "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker. This would make us all feel better about ourselves, but did nothing for the benefit of the nation or the troops.

Who supports the troops, really? In a way, we all do. We want them to be safe in whatever they're doing as they represent us in the world. The pertinent question herein is: How many of us take the time to monitor the decisions that steer our policies and actions? The population has become seemingly unable or even unworthy to participate in the democracy. Genuine supporters of the troops are those with direct or indirect connections to someone who serves in the military. They're the people most likely to pay attention to government policy. They experience the very real connection between the actions of government and real lives.

A military draft surely would be unpopular. Few politicians have dared to bring it up. Charles Rangel, a congressman from New York brought up the notion on more than one occasion and was subjected to ridicule from fellow members of Congress, and many in the political punditry machine that plagues our airwaves. Leaders have become fearful to support draft legislation for fear of losing their seats. Getting reelected seems more important than doing the right thing. Making unpopular decisions is the sign of a true leader, as long as they benefit the country. This debate, though, is a topic for another conversation.

Enacting conscription is a tough decision to make, there is no doubt. However, it's an important choice that will help to clear a path back towards the true democracy that our forefathers envisioned. It would cause people to care again, to become mindful of the actions that affect both the nation and its citizens. Sometimes, we all need to be forced to take some much needed ownership of our country's actions in the world, to take time out of our busy lives to pay attention, and to hold accountable those who decide for us.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bah Humbug: Why I Hate Christmas

Tis the season... Blah, blah blah. I realize it's practically blasphemous to say so, but I absolutely hate the Christmas season! The season which is upon us now has metamorphosized into a nerve-racking time of year for most of us. Christmas is a time of what I call 'have-to's'. We have to finish our shopping, wrap the presents, put up the decorations and the tree, and so on and so on. It's become so stressful, it is no longer enjoyable.

As the years pass, the happy memories of childhood Christmas's slowly, sadly fade into obscurity. I used to look forward to the holiday with anticipatory excitement. No I look upon it with dread. Traditional Christmas stories, such as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" bemoaned the commercialism that has become of the holiday. The Christmas of today is an even further deterioration of that notion.

Do you know people who do their Christmas shopping early? October? September? Even August? To those early shoppers, it's a stress reliever, but to me it makes no sense. There's no sentiment involved, only the inherent need to get it done. For the procrastinators (like me), waiting until the last minute forces them to deal with mall area traffic, parking lot altercations, long lines, the pressure of finding just the right gift, digging through messy racks of clothes to find the right size, It can be maddening! Whether it's early or last-minute, we all have to' do it.

Another reason for despise the season is all the great sales! It's not fair that the best sales of the year happen when I've got to make purchases for someone else. Why can't I have access to a great sale when I'm ready to buy something for myself. The trouble is, I usually do take advantage of the bargains, which adds even more to the mounting debt that I've already owed, not to mention the debt I've had to' add for this holiday in the first place.

With each year my debt is getting harder and harder to overcome. Living in these times can get quite expensive, and the Christmas season just doesn't help matters. Sometimes I feel as if I'm still paying off last year's purchases, which is probably true. This year, I decided to whittle down what I usually spend on Christmas shopping. I still spent over a thousand dollars. All because I felt I had to.' I really didn't buy too much, but with the cost of goods today, I really had no choice. No matter how hard I tried to curb my spending, my debt will yet rise again. It's a never-ending cycle of spending we've been forced into by the retail juggernaut.

One of my favorite Christmas stories is O. Henry's, "Gift of the Magi." It is a story full of irony, in which the two main characters sell their most prized possessions in order to buy a Christmas gift for each other. The ironic twist is that the gifts were meant to accent the possessions which they no longer had. Even more than one hundred years ago, Christmas had a regretful side. Today, it's as bad, if not worse, than it ever was.
Christmas. Bah, humbug!

SICKO: A Must See

Like him or not, Michael Moore has created a film that everyone can relate to and should take the time to see. With the recent release of the DVD version, Sicko is a movie that will shock and anger most Americans. Today, a majority of people seem to care more about Paris Hilton's imprisonment (Michael Moore was actually 'bumped' from Larry King Live recently in favor of Ms. Hilton!) or Lindsay Lohan's most recent crash and burn, but this movie relates to each of us. Don't trust what's said here. Go and rent it for yourself!

The movie is produced in classic Michael Moore style, combining heartbreaking, true life stories with snippets of relevant, informative, and sometimes humorous sound bites. The movie opens with the story of a uninsured man who had to choose between repairing his middle finger (at a cost of $60,000) or his ring finger ($12,000), which had been severed in a table-saw accident. Being a hopeless romantic, he chose the less expensive ring finger.

After recounting more tragic stories, Moore tells us that even though these stories are sad, the movie is not about them. The rationale of the film is to highlight the majority of Americans who have faith in their health coverage, and end up in financial or even mortal ruin, owing to the greedy opportunism practiced by today's health care providers and insurers.

Here are some eye-opening highlights that scream for attention and action:

- Countless accounts of unnecessary deaths resulting from bureaucratic red tape and denial of services.

- The premise that people who work for insurance companies are rewarded with bonuses and promotions based on the number of rejections of treatments they issue. He showcases the 1987 congressional testimony of Linda Peeno, a physician: "In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life, and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this, because in fact what I did was save a company half a million dollars. ... I had one primary duty, and that was to use my medical expertise for the financial benefit of the organization for which I worked."

- The millions and millions of dollars contributed by pharmaceutical companies, HMO's, physicians and other health care professionals to elected officials in our government. The movie follows the old adage, "Follow the Money."

- The brainwashing of Americans into believing that socialized anything would lead to communism. Communism, long considered the evil of our times (Until terrorism!). Concurrently, Moore points out that socialized programs already permeate our society (fire departments, library systems, schools...even the post office), yet we've been led to believe that socialized health care is somehow evil.

- Moore places a spotlight on the health-care systems of three countries: Canada, Great Britain, and France. All three countries provide universal health care in one form or another. What is shown in these segments should be shocking to any American: cheap drugs, quality health care, incentives (to medical professionals in Britain) for prevention, free health care, doctors (in France) who are on call 24/7 for people in need of care (At no cost!), and many more benefits Americans may see as dumbfounding.

Of course, Michael Moore is known for his urgent calls to action. Some accuse him of exaggeration for his own benefit. He's often charged with skewing the facts to fit his viewpoint. These claims have merit, but that's Moore's strength. Sometimes one needs to embellish a story to call attention to it. Shock value gets noticed. Of course, health care conditions in these countries are not as bright as Moore depicts them to be, but analysis of these systems warrants consideration.

The benefits of health-care in some countries certainly rival or even overshadow those in America. When a person loses the financial worry that comes with a health crisis in this country, the opportunity to focus on recovery is heightened. America has long been a leader in many facets of modern civilization, yet with the health-care system in shambles, other sectors of society will inevitably suffer, as well. The US ranks 37th out of 191 countries (Behind Costa Rica.) The three countries portrayed in the film are also ranked ahead of the United States. France has the top system in the world (World Health Report, 2000.). The communist state of Cuba, host to one of the most controversial footage in the movie, ranks just below us, at number 39.

For any real change to happen, everyone must to see this movie. Don't wait for calamity to fall upon you or your family. Take your mind off Brittney Spears for two hours and pay attention!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Amazon: Earning Money on the Internet

The saturation of the Internet in so many homes today offers many opportunities for entrepreneurs looking to earn money. Whether the goal is to earn some extra spending money or to find new means to earn a living, being innovative on the Internet is just as viable as it is in real life. With fresh and original ideas, one can find great financial success on the Internet.

Most people don't have the luxury of time to pursue ideas of a fruitful money-generating business, so finding ways to earn some extra cash is more practical. One of the most popular means of earning money on the Internet today is by selling merchandise on 'marketplace' websites. EBay and Amazon have become household names and are surely feasible ways add some money to your wallet.

About seven years ago, I went back to college at the age of thirty-five. The price of textbooks had grown appallingly high since I had last attended. The average prices ranged from $60 to over $200 per textbook. At the end of the semester, rather than keep a book that became suddenly useless, students sell the books back to the college, normally at a fraction of the original cost. One semester, my professor had suggested Amazon as an alternative to the university bookstore. At Amazon, I found I could purchase used versions of the textbook at a much lower cost. Once that semester had ended, I took a shot at selling my books in the same manner, and I now run an Amazon business that gives me some extra income.

As I continued to sell textbooks, I began to look around at all the other books, videos, Cd's and such that were collecting dust on my shelves. I had always heard that if you haven't used something in two years, you should get rid of it. With this in mind, I began to list other items on Amazon and in the past few years I've earned a steady stream of pocket money.

Listing items on Amazon is free and simple. Just type in the name of the movie, CD, or book you want to sell and Amazon lists titles applicable to your search. Once you find your item, click on the "Sell Yours Here" icon, describe its' condition, name a price, and your item is officially "listed" for sale. All you need to do next is wait for an email from the site telling you that your item has been sold. Once you've sold your item, you need to pack it and ship it within two business days.

Of the many ways one can earn money on the Internet, Amazon is a great and easy way to put some money in your pocket, while also purging some of your clutter at home.

Is gay a choice?

Did anyone ever consider that maybe God created homosexuality as a part of his Master Plan? Maybe he didn't want the population from getting too large, too fast. Think about it. Most experts agree that approximately 10% of us are gay. That's one in every ten people. If this figure is correct, imagine how many more people there would be on this planet today if homosexuality wasn't natural and intended by God. I mean, if every gay person in history was not gay, surely this planet would be a lot more crowded today than we already are.

This is how I reconcile my own homosexuality. For me, I know deep inside that I was born this way. Looking back on my life, I always knew that I liked men. I can remember fantasizing about men, not in a real sexual way, but as sexual as one can get at the age of four or five. Throughout my youth I've gone through crushes on male schoolmates, lusted after the neighborhood boys, and searched for the pictures of men interspersed within the pages of my father's Hustler magazines. With all this in mind, I simply cannot believe that God didn't make me this way.

So, is being gay a choice? The short answer is yes. The real choice, however, lies not in whether one is gay or straight. The real choice one makes is how they are going to live their lives; as a gay person or a hypocrite. Are you going to live your life openly and honestly, or are you going to hide in the shadows, denying your true self? Besides, with all the hatred and prejudice gay people are subjected to, who in their right mind would choose to be gay?

I've been 'out' since I was about nineteen years old. I knew from that age that these natural urges I felt within me could not be denied. I tried dating girls in high school, but eventually came to the realization that I'd rather date guys. From that point on I've lived as openly as I could (in this society) and am so much the happier for it.

Clearly, in both my personal life and in my observations of those in the public eye, there are many out there living double lives. In my personal life, I've been accosted on more than one occasion by married men who were "bi-curious". Look in the personal ads on web sites such as craigslist and you'll see many "straight" guys looking for man on man action. Give me a break!

Within the past several years, gay scandals within the government have cast a light on the the secret lives of Senator Larry Craig, Representative Mark Foley, and White House Correspondent/Gay Male Hustler Jeff Gannon. These most callous of hypocrites deny their true identities because they fear the albatross society has placed upon homosexuality. They instead choose to lead their lives perpetuating the hatred of gays, making them despicable in my eyes.

To those who believe the homosexuality is a choice, I say that we only know from our own experience. If you're not gay, I wouldn't expect you to accept what I say. I ask that you receive my words with an open mind and try to understand. To those who know deep inside that they are sexually attracted to members of their own gender, yet live their lives in secrecy, accepting whatever minimal satisfaction they get from their inner urges, I say, "God made you that way! Make a real choice to live your life honestly and maybe this world would be a better place."


I recently ended a relationship of 20 years and even though I was the one who ended it, the emotions I'm living through are tougher than I thought. I wrote this piece right after my birthday, when I was feeling a bit of the birthday blues. I hope to make it a starter for an online journal.

Reflections of a Breakup

Life is a roller coaster! The highs, the lows, and the speed of a thrill ride rival the unpredictable journey of life. It's unexpected turns take us through a range of emotions from happiness to despair and back again. At this moment in time, my life has just taken one of those unexpected turns and is careening towards the bottom of a long, steep hill.

I am a forty-plus year old gay man. I recently had a birthday, which no doubt has intensified this unwanted state of mind I've been experiencing as of late. I am writing this because I believe any good writer speaks from experience, and what I am now experiencing beckons me to let it out somehow, to help get me through this.

About eight weeks ago, my partner and I ended our relationship of twenty years. I was the one who wanted out. So why am I hurting so much? I've been thinking about this breakup for about two or three years now. I eased into this relationship at a young age and, well, coasted through what seemed like an instant in time. Eventually, I began to realize that I wasn't happy. There was so much I wanted to experience in life that I couldn't. I felt trapped in a 'contented' existence. I wanted to be truly happy!

The only answer to realizing true happiness lies within oneself. Growing up American, I've always believed in the notion of the "pursuit of happiness." There are many stories out there concerning people's quest for genuine satisfaction with their own existence, their own state of bliss. Not all have happy endings, but one who constantly strives towards happiness is admirable and virtuous. Too many people accept their place in life, believing they have no control over their destiny. This is unfortunate.

The greatest determiner of happiness lies within how one approaches life. A person's outlook on life is a powerful tool everyone possesses and is key to a happy existence. Positive attitude breeds confidence, which in turn breeds optimism. The journey towards bliss is easier. Those who lack confidence, the many who suffer from low self-esteem, are the inherent pessimists of the world, spending their lives in perpetual mediocrity and acceptance for their place in life.

Today, it is my own self-esteem that is to blame for my current state of pessimism towards my own future. For the past several years of my relationship, I've yearned for the moment in which I now find myself. I never really had the courage to voice my feelings and go through with it. Communication was, and still is, our greatest problem. I tried in the past to share my feelings, but any attempt at conversation ended in silent frustration. So I resorted to the printed word. The breakup finally took place when he found an open-hearted letter I had written on our 20th anniversary.

"Do you still feel that way?", he asked me almost four months later, upon telling me he found the letter.

"Yes", I answered.

"So, how do we do this?"

That was it! No discussion. No sharing of thoughts or feelings. After twenty years, it was over in a flash! I was somewhat startled at the nonchalant reaction. I had expected more of an attempt to prevent the split. I still loved him. I still do! But, there was no protest, only quiet acceptance. One of the worst consequences of non-communication is the second guessing. I never knew what he was thinking. I incessantly questioned his feelings for me. His reaction seemed to validate my feelings that maybe he didn't really love me. He only accepted his place in life, with me as his 'other-half'.

The relief I thought would come never did. The ensuing weeks have worked to smash my already sagging self-confidence towards the depths of this hill.

One day, when I was at work, he moved our furniture into separate rooms, taking our bed with him. It was his way of telling me he was angry and that he needed to push me as far away from him as he could. The action was a great blow to my hopes of a lasting kinship. My self-confidence waned. I was the bad guy.

What had I done? Will I be doomed to misery because I ended it? I cried myself to sleep that night on a twin air mattress I borrowed from my sister. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely lost. He obviously wasn't ready for friendship. I shouldn't have been so shocked. After all, I'd had two or three years to prepare myself. He'd only had a few days.

So I write this with a feeling of hopelessness. At this moment, the future looks bleak. What will I do? Where will I live? How will I survive? Will I ever find another kindred spirit? Or will I be alone? I just experienced the worst birthday of my life and that has brought me to this current state of self-pity. Breaking up is hard! Harder than I envisioned. Deep down, I know I'll come through this eventually. It's not going to be easy, though... (to be continued)