Watch: In Saddam’s Shadow, Part 2
VICE founder Suroosh Alvi returns to Baghdad ten years after the US invasion. In part two, we witness an awe-inspiring outdoor group prayer and get a glimpse of metal band Acrassicauda’s former practice space that was destroyed during the war.
Prisons Punish Families Too
When I read articles like this one in the New York Times about how prison makes people poor and destroys families, I have mixed emotions. I think it’s admirable that this high-and-mighty mainstream paper is examining the effects of the nation’s prison population explosion over the past 40 years. The author, John Tierney, tells the story of Carl Harris, a guy from DC who used to sell crack until he beat up some of his customers who robbed him and got 20 years on a trumped-up charge because the cops thought he was some big-time drug dealer. Sounds like Carl is doing better now, and I’m real happy he’s gotten to the point where he can enjoy life. Sadly, I ain’t exactly there yet—the drug statutes of New York State are continuing to butt pump my unlucky rump, even though I’m out of prison.
I could repeatedly point out injustices I believe I’ve incurred over the past eight years, however, I’m trying to stop that train of thought and get back to basics. I’ve been beating off to my old Susan Powter videos like it’s ’94 again and thanking whatever there is to thank up there that I didn’t get 20 years for beating up crackheads. As that Times article demonstrates through Carl and his family’s story, some prison terms are WAY too long, and excessive sentences unnecessarily handicap communities already in dire straits. Basically, prison is responsible for more chaos than anything else. But if it took the Times writing about it for you to get that, you’re probably a simpleton who needs some help eating solid food.
I didn’t go to Harvard or Yale and by many peoples’ accounts I’m dumber than dookie-dipped dewdrops drying on a dildo, yet I know prisons better than the front of my dick. While the clink-clink blows balls on a number of levels, the one aspect of doing time that, at least in my experience, isn’t that bad is the one the media plays up the most, and that’s the actual physical doing-time part. Movies and shows depict prisons as full of bloody dicks and shivs, and no doubt, dirt gets done in prison. But actually, most motherfuzzies in jail deal with a lot iller shit in the streets. The prisons I’ve been to were all pretty much chillin’. It’s basically summer camp minus the baby beavers. Lots of us bitch and moan, but we play cards and sports, watch TV, eat free food, have people clean up after us, lift weights, listen to music all day, take profucive naps, read and write a lot, and get money (masturbate) till the cows come home. The best part is you taxpayers pay for it all!
AARON SWARTZ AND BRADLEY MANNING: HOW THE US GOVERNMENT CONTAINS THOSE WHO WOULD FREE INFORMATION
“Remember how they outlawed acid soon as they found out it was a channel to something they didn’t want us to see? Why should information be any different?”
So says paranoid, stoner gumshoe Doc Sportello to the protohacker Fritz in Thomas Pynchon’s stem-winding psychedelic noir novel Inherent Vice. Doc’s referring to ARPANET, an early form of the internet. Pynchon may just have been playing to countercultural nostalgia, but then again, as any Pynchon nut will tell you, the hermetic author has always been on the side of misfits, running his subversive types through a gauntlet of endless Menippean carnivals.
But here’s the thing that Pynchon misses (maybe it’s just a function of Doc’s stoned operating filter): information has always been, in some form or another, outlawed. Did the good doctor forget prepsychedelic human history? Perhaps Doc’s naïveté is irrelevant when we consider that the internet and psychedelics—likened to one another by Tim Leary, Terrence McKenna, and others—blow information and consciousness wide open.
When Doc asks Fritz when the government is going to outlaw ARPANET and thus information, Fritz responds, “What. Why would they do that?”
Western civilization’s democracies will likely never outlaw the internet (they need it for the free market, you see)—but they have declared war on those who would use it to free once-secret information. And so it was with Aaron Swartz, and thus shall it be with Bradley Manning, the young Army soldier suspected of supplying WikiLeaks with its diplomatic cable dump. One is dead, the other contained (for now).
Manning knows the dimensions of his prison cell well. Since his arrival in 2010 he’s probably surveyed every dimple and crenulation of his cell’s concrete walls during his daily 23-hour isolation sessions.
Harry’s Freedom Foxhole - Legislating Love
Love is awesome. Love is awesome in the I-feel-like-high-fiving-strangers-and-listening-to-early-Beatles-records sense, but it’s also “awesome” in the old sense, i.e., “inspiring great apprehension or fear.” It can be a terrifying force, sweeping through your life and throwing you around like a plastic bag—all of a sudden you’re ignoring texts from your friends, ducking out of work early, driving on the highway at 3 AM thinking, “This is normal, this is fine. I’ll just call in sick tomorrow, we’ll spend the weekend in Connecticut. It doesn’t really matter if I overdraw my checking account to pay for the hotel.” Love is a hand on your heart that occasionally clenches into your fist. Compared to that, what’s marriage? A ring? A piece of paper that you get so your taxes are easier to fill out?
Everyone agrees that it’s way more than that. To conservatives who try really hard to oppose gay marriage from an intellectual standpoint that doesn’t involve outright gay bashing, marriage is an “institution” (also see “the institution of family”). They’ll usually lump in the rising numbers of single mothers and stuff like vitro fertilization in with gay marriage and get real abstract in their efforts to suggest that the consequences of gay marriage could be disastrous and far-reaching. Conservatives can’t say what those consequences will be, but they’re convinced that ominous stuff is on the horizon once men who already live together and have sex and arguments become able to freely visit one another in the hospital if they get sick.
For gay people, the issue is less abstract. They want to marry because everyone else can marry, and because their minority status is pretty much based around who they love—who they’re capable of loving—the law’s acknowledgement of that love is especially important. It’s one of those issues that seems so obvious to me I can’t even understand why it’s an issue. There are a bunch of people who are discriminated against in a way that’s important (at least symbolically), and you want to keep things as they are because a) some dude in a desert wrote some shit thousands of years ago or b) you have some extremely complex philosophical justifications for objecting to anything ever changing?
Harry’s Freedom Foxhole: Let’s Get Naked
Back in the good old days—I mean the days when humans were basically just upright-standing apes roaming over the savannah eating root vegetables and dying very easily—everyone had sex outdoors. Having sex indoors was not an option, because there was no “indoors.” Also, you spent your entire life with the same small nomadic band and probably didn’t wear clothes, so it wasn’t a big deal to see a couple people fucking whenever the mood struck. But then came shame and religion and clothes and buildings and privacy and whatnot, and now everyone gets in a tizzy whenever you and a friend(s) want to feel the sun and wind on your genitals.
The latest crackdown on people’s perfectly natural desire to bang one another as our noble upright-standing ape ancestors did comes from Mazomanie, Wisconsin, where there’s been something of an epidemic of peoplebasically having a nonstop weed-fueled Midwestern-style fuckfest on the bucolic banks of a river. See, the state bought some land back in 1949, and it’s become a vacation destination for nudists thanks to its isolation and liberal prosecutors who don’t care if you want to dangle your sausage or parade your boobies on a private beach. The problem is, the nudists started going to the woods to fuck and smoke pot, and, amusingly, despite all kinds of efforts over the last 20 years—a Christian protest at the beach, a lawsuit, a proposed anti-nudity law, a ban on camping on the sandbar, a gate blocking cars from driving into the sexy, sexy woods—people still be gettin’ it on. In 2007, authorities closed off sections of the woods near the road and cut down brush to “eliminate cover,” and officers have started hiding themselves and using telescopes to look for “lewd behavior” like a bunch of perverts. Last year, in one nine-day period, cops made 42 arrests—26 for sex and 16 for drugs, apparently mostly pot.
The really funny thing about Wisconsin’s efforts to reduce the amount of semen coating its woodlands is it makes you wonder what is wrong with public nudity and fucking in forests in the first place. Standing outside someone’s window and jerking it, or flashing your junk to strange girls on the subway is a form of sexual assault, but two dudes standing quietly in the woods stroking each other? Who’s getting hurt by them, and what’s the public good of forcing them to get a room? Ruth Bender (who says of public sex, “I don’t know what fun they get out of that”) sued the state Department of Natural Resources to force people to put their darn clothes on because the al fresco fornication and nudity near her canoe-rental place was scaring away her customers, but it sounds like the problem was with her customers. What’re they saying, “Oh no, let’s not rent canoes there, we might see some titties”? Fucking pussies. If Ruth Bender was a real American entrepreneur she’d be selling tickets to a canoe tour of Wisconsin’s largest orgy.
The most important rights to preserve are the rights that let you be an asshole, because these are always the most vulnerable. No Congressman is going to introduce legislation banning wholesome, supported-by-everyone stuff like adopting adorable puppies or doling out soup to the homeless. The behaviors that the government tries to ban are always antisocial activities like smoking cigarettes, owning way too many exotic animals, and yes, even living in a pubic park and waving signs around. Real freedom is the freedom to do stuff that a lot of people disagree with, even stuff that is really stupid and despicable—stuff like lying about having served in the military.
I didn’t just pick that example out of thin air. Thanks to a little-known law passed in 2006, it’s illegal in the United States to lie about having been awarded military medals. The law covers both written and spoken lies, and you can even go to jail for a year if you lie about having received the Medal of Honor, which is what a guy named Xavier Alvarez did at a public meeting in Pomona, California. He’s fighting his conviction on First Amendment grounds and the case has just been passed up to the Supreme Court.
Good for him for having the courage to say, “Yeah, I lied about the Medal of Honor, but I have the right to do so!” He would have been a better person if he had the courage not to go around saying he won an award for courage that he hadn’t won. But hey, cowards and criminals deserve rights too. (Remember, the dude who the Miranda Rights are named after was a career criminal and pervert.) Freedom of Speech means freedom to lie and say horrible things and insult people and make unfounded arguments—if we didn’t have the freedom to do those things, the internet would be empty of content. Sometimes, your horrible untruths get found out and people sneer and laugh at you for being a lying sack of shit, and that’s punishment enough. Like in Alvarez’s case, everyone now knows him as not just a liar, but a terrible one, since you can look up a list of every Medal of Honor recipient online.
A more serious and more reported story is the introduction this week of a bill that would allow the Attorney General to blacklist certain websites and force internet service providers to block them. The bill in question is aimed at sites that are devoted to copyright “infringement activities” (copyright infringement, you have to admit, is a vaguely dickish thing to do), but it’s easy to see how this could get out of hand. Even if you buy all of your mp3s legally and wait for your TV shows to stream on legitimate websites, even if you don’t even know what a “torrent” is, you should be worried every time the government says “Hey, we want to ban some websites, but only bad websites, we promise.” Who knows what’s going to count as a “bad website” in the future? Will Congress’s panic and the lobbyist-driven agenda lead them to ban websites that show pictures of dead soldiers or websites that call Congress a bunch of shortsighted intellectually stunted meatheads who can’t take a piss without their aides holding their dicks for them?
Once you start banning websites you don’t like, you’ll end up banning websites until the internet is nothing but pictures of kittens in costumes and forums about pickup trucks. And I should know, because I’ve got two Purple Hearts for my service in Vietnam.
Previously – Dwarf Tossing and-Fresh Milk