2014

It looks like the year is coming to an end for most people. While it makes more sense to me to end the year on December 21st (Winter Solstice) most people celebrate December 31st as the end of the year, unless you are Jewish, Chinese, some Burners, and probably some other cultures that I am sadly unfamiliar with. The end of the year, and winter in general, is a great opportunity to reflect on the past and prepare for the future.

2014 was a good year in my life, though it wasn’t without struggles. I got married to my best friend, started a nomadic bike ride around the United States, went to Burning Man for the fourth time, became more knowledgeable and comfortable with my sexuality and polyamory, made new friends as I let my freak flag fly, and I’ve had my passion for learning and pursuing education reignited. Unfortunately, I also had to leave Los Angeles where the greatest friend (and person) I’ve ever known lives and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to spend time with him as much as I would have liked. I’ve also found myself coming up short on my own morality… eating what I shouldn’t eat, wasting time that could be used more constructively, and spending time talking about creating art instead of actually doing it. Pursuing a life that I love, despite the push-back from society and the potential loss of people in my life who only see value in a world like theirs, has been incredibly difficult and rewarding. Luckily I have great people who continue to inspire and challenge me.

Who doesn't want their wedding to look like this?

Who doesn’t want their wedding to look like this?

As the new year continues to dawn around the world I have some goals in mind. I hesitate to call them “resolutions” because they aren’t necessarily things to do. For me the next year doesn’t appear to be revolutionary, it is the continuation of chapters started in 2014. I will continue to learn, to explore, and try to better myself. The bike ride will continue again in May and I hope to have a basic outline of how to get into sex education or sex therapy by then. I will continue to read and write, and hopefully explore more artistic ventures.

But first and foremost, I just hope to use my time more wisely and enjoy the moment. Instead of watching The Office or Parks and Rec for the hundredth time I want to knock out some of the books on my Goodreads “To Read” list (which is at about 660 books), watch new things on Netflix (about 180 on that list), bust out the watercolors, camera, charcoal, colored pencils, and other art supplies I have, play around with the harmonica, learn a new language, meditate more, cook more, keep working on Khan Academy’s math, bree beer, take some free MIT/Coursera/etc courses, and become a multi-orgasmic man. There is so much to explore in this world and it is so easy to get caught up in the same comfortable patterns. But comfort doesn’t lead to growth, challenge does. So while my year will be similar to last I hope to grow and challenge myself more. Which is easy to say but difficult to do… I’ll try though, and hopefully I will hit 2016 proud of all I’ve accomplished and the mistakes I made.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights – A Summary

It seems that abortion has been all over my newsfeed lately. Maybe it is that weird tendency to notice things that are on your mind, or maybe people really are talking about it a bit more right now. Several articles have been floating around and in November there were several pieces of legislation on state ballots that effected abortion. Regardless, it has been on my mind a lot recently as I finished up Katha Pollitt’s “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights”.

This book was pretty explicitly written for people like me. The middle ground people who are pro-choice but not strongly. My own reason for being pro-choice is a pragmatic one, not necessarily a moral one. Pushing anything into the black market makes it more dangerous and expensive for everyone, whether it is drugs, immigration, prostitution or abortion, it is better for things to operate legally instead of in the black market. Pollitt certainly touches on the pragmatic issues but her task (which she does brilliantly) is point out both the hypocrisy of and the natural conclusions of the anti-abortion movement. I won’t be referring to it as “pro-life”. While that phrase my be brilliant marketing it is misleading, to be pro-life would have larger ramifications than just abortion and should include how someone views capital punishment, war, terrorism, and even eating meat. Those issues aren’t in play here, this is about abortion.

Anti-abortionists state they are interested in protecting the life of the unborn. That life, which magically begins at conception, has just as much right to live as the mother. What they really seem to believe is that the unborn have MORE of a right than any other born person. The unborn can freely use the blood, food, resources, and body of the mother, but for some reason that freedom stops after birth. If a baby is born with a rare disease and needs a blood transplant from the mother nobody says the mother should be forced against her will to provide that blood. If she wants to let the baby die at that point it should be legally allowed, even if for the previous nine months she shouldn’t be allowed to cut off the use of her body from the unborn.

The unborn and the woman somehow entered into a magic contract because she had sex. The very act of sex (whether that sex was consensual or not) means that the woman has agreed to give full access of her body and resources to the unborn, she is to put her life, education, career, and health on hold because she had sex. Her role as potential mother comes above her own desires. There seems to be no other place in human society where such and implicit contract plays out even when one party explicitly does not consent. It isn’t even clear who the second party of this contract is, the unborn? God? Society? Why isn’t the male held to such a contract?

For all the talk of reducing abortions most anti-abortionists refuse to support policies that would do just that. Comprehensive sex ed, easy access to contraception, increased adoption by homosexual couples, and greater societal support for mothers are all things most anti-abortionists oppose. There also seems to be little outcry against IVF, which kills lots of embryos in the process. It seems for many it isn’t really about preventing abortions and is more about punishing sex and keeping women in a particular (and limited) role… the mother who needs a man to provide.

Since Roe became the law of the land anti-abortionists have be incredibly successful at closing down medical facilities. In one region of the US you would have to travel nearly 1500 miles to get to a clinic, a geographic and financial barrier that is insurmountable for the group of people who need and request abortions the most, low-income mothers. Anti-abortionists will say that women need to give it a lot of thought so they put into place waiting periods, medical exams, required counseling and other barriers so that she is fully aware of the consequences of abortion. Then, they make it illegal or incredibly expensive to get an abortion if you wait past a certain point. It seems there is a magical sweet spot of time a woman should wait and that time is both universal and determined by everyone except the woman.

Pollitt argues that in order to keep abortion accessible and the rights of woman to control their body honored then pro-choice advocates need to get their ass in gear. People in the middle and on the fence need to be active and the language needs to change. Instead of seeing abortion as an unfortunate, but necessary, procedure it needs to be presented as a force for good. Abortion has allowed millions and millions of women take care of the children they have, wait until they are ready to be mothers, and add their brain power to the economy. Women are more than a potential baby-maker, and what they do with their bodies is only their decision. Allowing the government to control women is the real tragedy that in the end harms us all.

Solstice

Well, I am finally over the bug I started feeling on Saturday. I had planned on holding a winter solstice Pagan ceremony on Sunday but I could barely get out of bed. My wife and our roommate were both in St. Louis for the holidays so it was just me and Higgins for a week. Luckily I was able to call in sick and take the time necessary to rest.

Anyway, on the 24th I decided to hold the ceremony anyway. One of my favorite things about Paganism is the level of customization for the individual. What matters is a pursuit of bettering your life and the world, the particular ceremonies and holy books are simply tools to use if they work and discard if they don’t. It even works with me being an atheist.

This was my first real spiritual move in a long time, and it is something I hope to do more of in the new year. The way Americans celebrate winter religious ceremonies is kind of interesting. While Christianity is certainly the prominent force, most Christians acknowledge (Kirk Cameron excluded) that many/most of the symbolism involved in the modern practice has come from Paganism and other faiths. But not all symbols, the pentagram has, incorrectly in my opinion, become a symbol of evil and Satanism, but a Christmas Tree or Easter Bunny are perfectly fine to embrace and the even overshadow the religious icons in a home. Even the most Biblical literalist seems okay with Pagan symbols when they are part of “tradition”.

For myself, I held a simple ceremony based on some research I did online, stuff from a book that was recommended to me, and what I could remember from the ceremony to the god Pan that I participated in a couple years ago. Because my ceremony was solo and I wanted to focus on the upcoming year much of it was geared towards self-improvement, eliminating expectations, and learning to “row with the flow”. There were candles, some chanting and prayers, meditation, and a ceremonial burning. Nothing too hardcore, but it was perfect for me.

Exploring my spirituality and uniting that with my scientific and atheist side is becoming more and more important to me. It looks like my wife and I will even be able to attend a Pagan festival in Indiana next summer. I am not sure exactly what form my spiritual path will take, or if I will just cast part of it aside because it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. All my premises should be tested often as I learn and grow, but I am excited to jump into holy texts from around the world and see what they can teach me.

Undressed

I like being naked. I like it alone, in groups, with friends, with strangers, while on drugs, while sober, while riding bicycles, while sitting in hot tubs or hot springs, and while lying on the beach or playing in a river. And, now that I am Facebook friends with some co-workers, this became a conversation… because I get drunk and say things like “hey, we should all be naked together in a hot tub” to my 2,000 Facebook friends.

While I am comfortable in my body and an advocate for self-love and body positivity, I wasn’t always like this. It took years and years and years of overcoming social pressure and religious indoctrination. Growing up in a Conservative Christian home means the body was something to be ashamed of. Nudity equals sex, and sex was evil except in the strict confines of marriage. The possibility of seeing a nipple on a movie means we were sent out of the room and even the image of someone in their underwear on a network tv show caused gasps and reddened faces around the room. I was told that pornography turns men into rapists and masturbation was essentially cheating on my future spouse.

While I was in high school I never showered after gym and when actors had to do quick costume changes during plays when I was a tech for the drama department I turned my head out of my own embarrassment (but often tried to play it up as respect for the actor). When a graduation party started playing “truth or dare” I excused myself from the party and stayed outside because of the rumors about the game, there might be nudity or kissing among people who weren’t dating (I was saving my first kiss for my wedding day) and I couldn’t be around that.

But, times change and as I ventured out into the world I was able to break through the mental barriers that had been established. A big part of it is because of my time in the military when I had no choice but to shower in a big room with other people. As awkward as it was at first I came to realize nobody really cared. Nobody stared or laughed or gawked, and many of us had the same insecurities. Our bodies all had weird hair and skin discoloration and rolls of fat and scars and different dick sizes and marks of an unknown source. All of our differences made us very much the same. This nudity was functional, non-sexual, and (most importantly for my conservative mind at the time) didn’t mean I was gay.

After leaving the army I found that I was quite comfortable nude alone and the concept of social nudity (nude beaches, clubs, etc) really appealed to me intellectually, though I had not seen it in practice. That changed at my first Burning Man. I didn’t get naked myself that year but nudity is not uncommon out in Black Rock City (despite some attempts to make it illegal by the local government). I’d estimate 10% of women and 5% of men are nude at any given time, with higher numbers being just topless. That may not sound like much but in a city of 60,000 people you end up seeing a lot of bodies… and all of them different, beautiful, and nobody really caring. Certainly there are some creeps in the crowd but most people will just give you a small, a hug, a gift, or a kind word. For the amount of areolas, penises, pubic hair, nipples, pubic mounds, labias, testicles, and butts in view at any time  it is a remarkably non-sexualized environment.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of banging going on, there certainly is. But it is saved for the right context and that makes it all the more special. When the body transforms from the beauty of the nude form into a sexual vessel the pleasure is even more intense and the moments of erotic ecstasy even more personal. Seeing your friends and strangers going about their day in the nude doesn’t take away from sex with your partners, it makes it more intimate.

Our society has decided that nudity equals sex, even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Nudity can be bathing, shitting, exercising, sleeping, relaxing, or just enjoying nature. Though you can find porn for each of those things I don’t believe the human body is primarily sexual, we are complex beings who can use these wonderful water-filled meat suits to do great things in our natural state. Seeing people naked, especially our friends and loved ones, takes away the shame and secrecy. We see each other’s beautiful flaws and realize our own wonderful form.

While the body isn’t just for sex I think we do view sex in a sheltered and shunned way similar to the body. People who have sex when others are around are usually viewed as perverts or something… that’s unfortunate. To see your friends and strangers in the throws of ecstasy is beautiful and fun, it can also be quite hilarious. Sex doesn’t have to be taken seriously, it is okay to laugh and enjoy the noises. When we went to the Orgy Dome at Burning Man the first time we were incredibly nervous but that quickly subsided when we realized it was a fun environment and people were not staring, gawking, or anything like that.

Since becoming more comfortable with my body it has had  a snowball effect on my life (both clothed and unclothed). I went to a clothing optional Pagan event that was wonderful. I’ve been to half a dozen nude beaches, skinny dipped in random rivers, and participated in two World Naked Bike Rides (which is the most fun you can have on two wheels). Being more comfortable with myself means being more confident and not taking life too seriously, it has also allowed me to see the beauty in those around me. I have a curiosity for the body that is beyond sex and is about love, appreciation, and a hope that those I care about can come to see themselves for the beautiful shining people that they are.

1546130_578508974239_8168911631276226647_n

Note: The unaltered version of this picture was blocked by Facebook because it is obscene. If you ask me, it is a culture that is obscene if it seeks to shun people seeking to give people confidence in their beautiful bodies.

Law Enforcement, Military, and American Society

“Isn’t it funny how red, white, and blue represent freedom until they are flashing in your rear-view mirror?” – Unknown

Many times the military and civilian law enforcement are grouped together. Sure, there are some similarities. They both carry guns and have a duty to protect the country, just the “enemy” tends to be different. The military, particularly the infantry, has a job to seek and destroy while the police are here to serve and protect. Both are legitimate duties of the government  to provide (unless you are an anarchist) and both come with special responsibilities and power. But in a lot of ways they are very different.

I spent four years in the military with the 82nd Airborne Division but I’ve spent no time in a police department (except for a couple years in high school as a police explorer), just to give you an idea of where I am coming from. During that time in the military I got in trouble once for a fairly minor infraction, though I saw many others get in more trouble. The response to soldiers that misbehave seems very different than the response to law enforcement when they misbehave.

The military is very concerned with honor, integrity, and keeping the image of the unit positive in the eyes of other units and the public. This acts as a sort of check on bad behavior. If you do something wrong or illegal, especially if it becomes public knowledge, the military doesn’t circle the wagons. Quite the opposite, they come down on you hard as an example to other soldiers. The mission comes before the individual and if you fuck you then you harm the mission.

I have mentioned before that when I was in Afghanistan and Iraq we had a more strict Rules of Engagement than many civilian law enforcement agencies. If I had used a strictly unauthorized technique on an unarmed subject whom we were trying to detain and it was caught on video I would have been locked up and found myself facing a court martial in front of some Generals. This would just be to punish me, it would be to keep the American people confident in my unit. To disgrace the nearly 100 years of service the 82nd Airborne has done was one of the greatest sins of all. This applied to things much lesser than the death of an innocent person. I saw soldiers sit in jail cells over the weekend because we were ordered not to bail them out. I had half my pay taken away, my rank stripped, and placed on extra duty for 30 days (basically banned from leaving work or base) because I gave another soldier my ID card so he could buy beer. Mercy was not something allowed for those who gave the Blue Devils a bad name. I just don’t see that type of concern for image or honor in civilian law enforcement, instead I see a focus on covering up and maintaining the blue line of silence above all else.

Policing in the US has many problems that vary across departments. Some departments, like Ferguson, are small and seem to be staffed by officers that are not really part of the community. The average police officer salary in the town is 1/3 higher than the average income of non-officers, and 67% of the city is African-American while only 5% of the police department is African-American. With most police department requiring a Bachelor degree and only 22% of adults in Ferguson holding one it seems very likely that the police come from outside the community. Ideally I’d have access to the personal biographies of every officer but that really won’t happen, though we do know that Wilson was born in Texas but grew up in St. Peters, Missouri which has three times the average income of Ferguson.

This outsider status was not something I really saw in the Army. First, the Army allows you to get in with just a GED. The lack of educational requirement means it can be a stepping stone to financial and social stability. Also, my unit also had an incredible mix of ethnicities, home states, and socio-economic backgrounds (the nickname “All American” for the 82nd Airborne actually come from the fact the original group had someone from every state). Just looking at some of the members of my squad in Afghanistan shows you how diverse it could be… my team leader was an African-American from Kansas who was raised Muslim, our grenadier was an Irish-Catholic from New Jersey, one of the SAW gunners was a big country boy from North Carolina, I was a protestant Christian from the Northwest, one of our riflemen was from Chicago, and another member was from Maine. This diversity meant we had a loyalty to America as a whole and not any place in particular, and because of my connections to those men each of those places felt a little bit like home.

I think the situation in New York is a bit different, though I know nothing about the economic and racial makeup of different neighborhoods so the same “outsider” issue may apply. New York, particularly since 9/11, has had a culture that doesn’t tolerate criticism of the police very well. Elevating humans to a sort of god-like status is a guarantee that rights will be abused, humans are not angels and police should be held to a higher standard. They should not be able to just violate rights through random searches and racial profiling, but that is allowed daily in New York. And clearly, you can do something that even George W. Bush thinks was out of line and the civilian population will tolerate it because of the badge.

Of course, the general public is to blame also. We have become a country that turns to police for every little problem. Neighbor being loud? Call the police. Kid playing at the park alone? Call the police. There isn’t even an attempt to correct the problem without calling someone with a gun to escalate the situation. I saw that first hand here when someone called the police on our neighbor because the dog was barking… no note on the door, no asking the apartment complex manager to talk with them, just straight to the cops. It used to be the police were more like the Fire Department, they were around but you only dealt with them when things were really bad. That just isn’t the case anymore, they are revenue generators for an out of control government, they are sent after peaceful people for victimless “crimes”, and they are supposed to solve every inconvenience that comes from living in a society. We have given military weapons to people who are not properly trained, told them to solve all our problems, and then said they won’t be held accountable if they kill someone… of course this leads to a sick institution, there is no way of avoiding it, and there will continue to be dead, unarmed civilians (most likely men of color) until accountability and transparency are brought to police departments and they return to their primary duty of protecting and serving the community in which they are a part of.

Disclaimer: Clearly this is a complex issue. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to cover all the details and nuances. Also, I’m just a random blogger so this stuff isn’t an academic study. It is just my thoughts that developed from a conversation on my Facebook page (be my friend!)). Many of the points were made by my friends, like a lot of things in the world value is created through a communal effort and discussion.

Alice

Recently I took some psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelics is something that I want to like, they sound fascinating, but so far I have never had a great experience. They haven’t been bad experiences, just not really fantastic. Sure, sex is fantastic on them, but sex is fantastic sober and on MDMA. I get some visuals but my logic never really shuts down and I can’t really get into it, I enjoy the show but I know it isn’t really happening.

I also get pretty sick to my stomach put can’t induce vomiting. It distracts me and takes away from any good feelings I’m having. I also don’t really know what to do on shrooms. I was kind of trapped in the apartment because it is winter and even though I felt good I didn’t have the motivation to take more and really go down the rabbit hole. Maybe I need to do that, stop dicking around and just ingest a higher dose from the beginning instead of inching up to it.

I know what to do on MDMA, the intimacy and open communication comes naturally to me. I like talking to others, cuddling with them, massaging them, orgasming with them… but that drive really isn’t there with shrooms. Maybe I am not ready for them or maybe I need a better environment. I can kind of see how it would be fun on a nice spring day to be in a secluded natural environment and take some, but locked in a house just didn’t work for me. Ugh, I’m open to it again but so far my shroom and acid experiences have not lived up to my expectations.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Abortion is one of the few subjects where I kind of don’t know for sure where I stand. I was raised in a very conservative home that viewed abortion as an evil thing because it killed an innocent life (I hadn’t realized the irony of holding that view but also supporting the death penalty and a military empire that results in innocent deaths all the time), I even gave a passionate speech during youth group about how abortion is wrong even in the case where the mother is in danger because it is up to God to decide who lives and dies.

Well, as I saw more of the world and encountered more people I have come to realize it is much more complicated than that. I am going to start reading more on the subject, my thoughts at this point are basically from conversations and my own internal dialogue. I’ll be starting with “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights” by Katha Pollitt and am open to reading suggestions from all sides of the issue.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the subject:

Even if you begin with premise that life begins at fertilization and life is to be protected at all costs I don’t think abortion should be illegal. Pushing something into the black market makes it more dangerous and expensive, particularly to minorities and low-income families. The wealthy will always have access to safe abortions, even though it may cost more.

Abortion (at least early in the pregnancy) doesn’t seem to violate the Harm Principle. The fetus feels no pain and is not aware that anything is happening to it. Even if you believe there is a spirit to harm the fetus either went to heaven or God is a huge douchebag who punishes the innocent and because of that is not worthy to be praised or supported by any good person. Outlawing (using force against someone) also seems to go against Christ’s teachings in John 8:7, and maybe Matthew 7:3 and Romans 12:19.

My biggest problem with anti-abortion advocates are the ones who say abortion should be illegal even in the case when the mother’s life is in danger. We all seem to recognize the right to self-defense and that seems to apply in this case as well. The core of the debate seems to be (and I may be wrong) about stopping or punishing sex. Pregnancy is a potential natural response to sex, but it is not the only reason people have sex. In fact, most sex isn’t for reproduction, it is for pleasure and bonding. Many conservatives seem to hate that.

Well, I will dive into the book now. It is only about 250 pages so I may be writing a summary and any thoughts I have at some point soon.