nor is darkness light.
Though pain may overwhelm us
it cannot stop our bright.
Defeat is not surrender,
nor is the battle lost.
Defeat is not surrender,
though we have paid great cost.
For in our hearts a forest grows,
its branches strong and green,
and our forests will grow again
though all we hear is keen.
It seems to drown all we know.
It seems to black out light.
But if you listen carefully,
your heart will guide you right.
Much pain endured, many hearts lost
we've hurt and we've despaired,
but you are stronger than you know.
You wear the heroes' pale.
Music, as strong as candlelight
that lights until the dawn
will honor and will shine with you
till all your fears are gone.
And if you listen closely,
and if you listen close,
it will teach you a secret,
the language magic spoke.
That language that we long thought dead
that death and pain had beat
is not something that can be killed
and it still sings as sweet.
As sweet as music ever was
and once again shall be
you must now listen - careful, close -
to what it says, I plea.
For we did lose the hearts and minds
of those we thought our friends
and if we hope for peace to come
them we must understand.
I know I ask a thing absurd
a thing that rhymes with pain
but if you want a kinder world
you must not now abstain.
But do not compromise too much
or let the pain drown out
the secret words of dreaming light
your forest must still sprout.
For we must hold the line -
strong, true -
that they would see us yield
that they would trample in the dirt
and vicious power wield.
We must not fear to hold the line
against those who seek cold
unflinching power, reckonings,
vendettas grim and old.
And we must not fear to hold firm
against those who don't think
who put some power's word above
those they push to brink.
For those you love,
and those who you like,
and those who you hope love you,
whose dreams are made of candle light,
whose forests live in you,
they need you now.
They need you strong.
They need to hold your hand
as they stand with you and with me
to save our broken land.
fall of those we trusted,
fall of hope and candlelight,
and blasted hellscapes, rusted
fall of light, and fall of life
and fall of dust and heartbeats,
the world watches and pretends
they cannot see us deletes.
For that is what we would become
would not with dear time's passing
the world know we fought and bled,
and at the last, and died gasping.
We sought to stand as you have claimed
neighbor helping neighbor
but some amongst us with their hate
pushed you away, our savior.
And still we stand, now at the last,
white helmets far from gleaming
hoping against hope these poor souls
may one day 'member, dreaming
that though we lost and though we died
and though the world now darkened
these souls may dream of candlelight
and too kinship, then, hearken.
These tiny souls, these innocents,
the bullets closing in
cannot begin to understand
my weeping violin.
The choking dust is closer now,
air heavy, harsh with gas.
Barrel bombs, mortars, missile strikes
are sure to be our last.
But while the blue sky lives somewhere
somewhere trees are green
I'll raise music to candlelight
and with my strings, now keen.
For we will not escape this fate,
the shelling, far too rough,
our hopes and dreams, now bleeding out
are made of kinder stuff.
Remember us, these children here,
when we are dead and gone.
Remember dreams of candlelight.
Remember... comes the dawn.
My name is Zeta Syanthis, and I just wanted to inquire about the status of HB 6073. I'm a transgender individual who was born in Chicago a number of years back and am in the process of updating all my documentation. (I even have my court date on February 17th!) I can update pretty much everything the way the laws are currently written, but despite being on hormone replacement therapy for nearly a year now (and in therapy for longer than that), the laws in Illinois say I need to have surgery to update my birth certificate.
Now, I'm thinking about that, but it's obviously a really big decision, and I'm really not sure right now. I know HB 6073 was introduced last year and has made it at least through the second reading, but I've not seen any progress beyond that. I know there's a lot of messy politics and stuff going on these days, but it'd really be a huge mental help if I could just get this done, forever. >.< Can you help me out and see what can be done?
If there's any additional information I can provide, or anything I can do to help the effort to pass this, please, please let me know what I can do. I don't think I can possibly communicate how much it means, but I'm pretty sure if I could, you'd be crying for a week. >.<
the wounded and the shaken,
the times that would us now destroy,
if we should not awaken.
But still I hear dear freedom's call.
I hear its march and chime
and if you now just listen close
you'll see it still yet shines.
Now as one, we will stand tall,
against these men of pain,
against all those who hurt our joy,
who bring tears like the rain.
If I must lead, let it be now.
Let me stand strong and tall,
Let us together break these chains
Let not the darkness fall.
For we have beauty, dreams, and light,
and they have none they fight for.
They've only pain, a pain that binds
a pain that we have cure for.
I say again, we know it's cure,
for we have dreams and light,
for we have suffered and grown more whole,
and bloomed against the night.
They think they know our weakness now,
and we may well be weak,
but they know not the strength within
that now, at last, must speak.
They know not resolve, know not strength;
they cannot see our heartstrings.
But they will hear them nonetheless,
the music from that well-spring.
But never pain we seek of them,
though pain we may yet cause,
for hearts damaged well beyond ours
there is no healing gause.
Empathy, as much a blade
as any surgeon's tool
shall be our instrument of peace,
as we now fight this duel.
With broken hearts and tear-filled eyes
we'll weather coming storm.
And when the clouds at last do lift,
the dawn will yet be warm.
Today our task seems bleak, I know
but hear me now and stand.
I will not give into the hate
that strides upon this land.
Though I am angry, hurt, and sad,
I'll not respond in kind.
I'll stand and speak of love
to those with injured mind.
A candle now, lit on my desk
now stands against the dark.
It will not flicker, will not dim
that shining, tiny spark.
This battle now, waged all in words
I shall now t'last commence.
With shining heartstrings resonanant
in beauty's firm defense.
I ask you now to join as one
to stand against the dark
to stand with me against what comes
to hold your shimmer-spark.
Actions to Take
- Attend local Democratic party meetings, town halls.
- Write Illinois state reps about gender change on birth certificates. (Currently surgery is required.)
- Write and call local politicians often. Volunteer with them, maybe.
- Start weepwith.us
- Only truth. No agenda. Only stories.
- "I'm here to cry with you."
- Find ways to *encourage* personal expression.
- Kindness above all. Respect whenever possible.
- Fear is the only true enemy.
- We are all linked. Suffering in one part of the world echoes across all, eventually.
- We must restore and preserve natural beauty for future generations as well as provide for the possible evolution of other species who have not yet appeared.
- "If you build it, they will come" approach -> create a better society and let people see what it can do for them...
- Individual freedom is the foundation of everything I seek to accomplish.
- This must apply to all sentients, a category that is to be more inclusive if there is to be error.
- Mutual respect between individuals, groups, and nations.
- Empathy with conflicting viewpoints.
- Support for basic living standards
- It is not ethical to have any job pay so little that working full time at that wage, you could not safely live.
(We have built a country in which people may live, but their dreams may die.)
- THIS IS DEMANDED BY THE RIGHT TO PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
- Food, water, electricty / gas, unfiltered internet, healthcare.
- Revamped K-12 education
- Much more focus on civics *and recent history.*
- Promotion of a sense of awe at the beauty of the natural world. Only by respecting it can we hope to preserve it.
- End the following
- War on Drugs
- War on Terror
- Government actions must be founded primarily on consent wherever possible, else they will run into resistance.
- How do you kindle peace in the heart of someone who knows not what it is? Everything requires background!
- We need diversity, others, difference, to not be alone. Animals help this too.
- How do you unite people in the absence of an external enemy? Culture?
- How do we handle the concept of honor?
- Institutionalized racism / sexism.
- Corrupt liberal and center vs. right wing. Right wing wins *every time*. (Includes perceived corruption!)
- Ethical myopia
- Mindsets trapped within frameworks designed to keep them surpressed. Realization of frameworks frees your mind. How the hell do we do this?
- Do not forget those who need help, or they will be your downfall.
Completely Random Ideas
- Pursuit of new frontier (Case for Mars) to revitalize western civilization.
- Have news agencies create textbooks for education. Gives them a reliable source of income and improves student knowledge.
- What do we do if we can't educate people enough? What about while we're working on improving it?
- Bill of Rights
- UN Declaration of Human Rights
My name is Zeta Syanthis, and I am writing to you in the hope that you will read my story. I'm writing because I'm scared, and because my friends are being hurt. And because I know it's probably only a matter of time before I, myself, am.
Ever since President-Elect Donald Trump won the electoral college on November 8th, hate crimes against minorities have spiked to an unbelievable degree. I myself am a transgender citizen living in California, though I've only been here for two short years. (I moved here hoping against hope that I would be safe. >.<) Originally from Illinois, I went to school in Terre Haute, Indiana (downstate) and then lived in Arizona for almost 5 years, working as a cleared defense contractor during that time. I have no illusions about the threats we face, or about the need for a strong hand in government, but for the first time in my life I no longer feel safe in my own home. I no longer know if those I wish to serve want me here, or if those that do outnumber those who wish me dead. I hope you are one of the former. >.<
I do not know if you have ever felt as I do, whether here or abroad, but I can tell you it is a deep and terrible feeling, one that scarcely lets me get up each day. It as though a spike has been driven through my heart and chained to some dark place, and I do not know how to remove it. >.<
Already, we have lost folks, to that same depression which I battle daily. We have lost 9 that I know of to suicide, kind and gentle folks who lost hope upon seeing their hoped-for futures snatched away. Others are being killed, or chased down with hatchets, while all the while the KKK celebrates day after day. In our neighborhoods, pride flags are being burned while still attached to houses, black churches are being torched, and women's cars vandalized for even looking as though they might be Muslim. And that's to say nothing of the hateful words and symbols painted and etched into our lives.
I know you alone cannot stop this. And I do not put that responsibility at your feet. How could I? But I am asking, as one human to another, "*Please* do not do this to us." We have shed far too many tears already, and my heart cannot bear many more. >.<
See, we all experience hiraeth. We all call back to times when things were better because we all have low points in which we wish things weren't the way they are. We pine for justice, for love, for hope, for so many other things. Hiraeth is what drives us, and that notion that things were better and can be again is an extraordinarily powerful one.
But like all things, hiraeth is also dangerous. Because the past it calls back to (in most cases) never really was, it can be, and has been, abused by many. From Nigel Farage of UKIP to Donald Trump, we've seen leaders use the notion of a better past to drive us towards regressive policies, centralization of power, and the allure of a strongman-in-charge. Yes, there are many things that need fixing today. The global balance of trade has helped, and harmed, many, and I don't pretend to have answers there. I only know hiraeth is not one.
Remember hiraeth when they speak or when any of us speak, and ask yourself what power those words are intended to carry.
First off, I want to say that I went to San Francisco's Transmarch yesterday and had an amazing time. Seeing city hall lit up in the colors of the trans flag, myself, in person... was astonishing. I could have hugged the goddamned pillars that held up that roof.
Sadly, this journal is not about that. It's not about the first public image of myself ever posted to the internet. It's not about the fun I had with a friend, or the exhaustion of a march that was maybe a wee bit longer than I expected it to be.
This journal is about the flag.
Milling around a few minutes after the end of the march, my friend and I were trying to figure out what to do next. Out of nowhere, we smelled burning, and though we didn't know what it was, we figured it was a good idea to stay away. And it was. In front of news crews from NBC, a group of marchers set light to, and burned, the American flag.
I don't know exactly why they did it. I wasn't close enough to see faces, wasn't sure what was even on fire at the time. Had I known, I *would* have pushed through the crowd to try and put it out.
I know burning the flag is legal. I think it *should* be legal. I can't really imagine a situation in which I would do it myself, but I can understand frustration and symbolism just fine. What I don't get is how this makes any kind of sense.
As I see it, this was a hell of a step backwards. The *very same day* that the President of these United States named the Stonewall Inn a national monument, these people burned the flag of that same nation. This, after numerous executive orders protecting transgender individuals, and after the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, stood up for us, publicly, on national TV. After she spoke *directly to us*, telling us we would not be alone going forward. I'm not saying things aren't still pretty fucking broken, but is this how we respond to those that would call us friend? Is this how we treat our allies? If so, we don't fucking deserve them.
The videos of the incident (and there are several) are not going to disappear. They're going to spread, and those who hate us will have even more excuses to hate than they already do. This is not the way.
I've been really depressed the last few days. Even beyond that, I've been really out of it the last few weeks. Some of that has been medication-related (insomnia, now dealt with), some of it's been family-related, and some has been all the horrible stuff in the news. A lot of it ties into my last journal, too. >.< Deep therapy has played its part too, unfortunately, as though it's really important, it still has smashed me in terms of mental energy. >.<
So... my sister called me a week or two ago. I still haven't talked to my parents, and she's a bit upset with me. Note that she's not upset because I'm not talking to them, but because I haven't at least let them know what my decision is about them being in my life. I think she's right about that, as much as I wish she wasn't... and as much as I know many of you may disagree. I don't know how to do it though, because I'm fairly sure that I'd do far more damage trying to explain what they'd done in the inevitable "Why?". I don't respect them, don't love them, and wish like hell I could program them right out of my brain. >.< They have caused immeasurable damage that I have no idea how to recover from, and I probably would have been better off with *wolves*. >.<
I want them gone, I want to be healed, and I want the family I wish I had. And though I am making progress on all three, today it doesn't feel like it. >.< It hasn't felt like it for weeks. >.<
One thing that I just want to cry endlessly about is that I don't even know how to have a relationship with my sisters, even. Both are close to my parents, and I have no idea what cutting them off would do. I don't think it'd be intentional, but I feel like if I cut off my parents that I will inevitably lose them too. And honestly, I don't even know how to maintain a relationship with them without being constantly reminded of my parents, which I may not be able to handle anyways. >.<
I just want a safe and deep connection with my family, and I can't. >.< I'm fucking terrified. >.<
My therapist and I have been working on this stuff for weeks, really fighting it every session, trying to work on resources and honest-to-goodness healing, but every unlocked memory hurts more than the last. The part of me that's hiding even from myself is really, horribly, shattered, and I wish like hell she wasn't. That poor girl never had a fucking chance and never even knew it. >.<
She's still hiding in the stairwell, a place I used to go where no one would think to find me. Whether the back stairs that no one thought to check, or the unfinished wooden boards of the basement, it doesn't matter. She's still sitting there in the dark. She can't go down, nightmares of flames too terrifying to hide even deeper, in the not-even-lockable room with the gas-powered furnace, but she can't go up, into the brightly-lit kitchen either. There is nowhere that is safe. >.< And so she hides forever, or at least as long as she can, cold and alone. She hid other places too... in the bathroom that used to lock until her brother broke the handles, in the closet behind the clothes... she even hid in the crawlspace, that closet within a closet that only she knew she had opened. She lost that one to ice one winter, when the water crept inside the house, but at least she had the downstairs bathroom. Not even hers, in the middle of everything, the door could be barred with drawer as well as latch, making her feel a little safer... as long as she pretended not to hear the yelling through the door. >.< She hid *so much* and from *so much* and no one even realized she was scared. >.<
That poor little girl never even had a chance. As far as I can tell, she died there, alone in the cold, and I don't know how to bring her back. She's shivering, shaking in the tremors I feel even now, pausing every few seconds to let out a shudder of nervous energy that simply *will not let me be*. >.< Any time I get even close to this, it rises like a fucking tidal wave. I'm still terrified that it will one day put me in the hospital, possibly for good. >.<
On top of all this shit, the cultural rejection from my parents, we have the recent news, which really needs no explanation. The "bathroom bill" that just passed in North Carolina makes me want to just fucking sob, because I can already see the lives it will end. I know how badly the *explicit message of erasure* has hit me, and I can only imagine how bad the depression will be for bullied school kids as they are told by even their government that they are not worthy to exist. Madness. How the fuck do we expect *any* kid to not be destroyed by the fear resulting from this, in much the same way I was? >.<
I'm still hiding in that stairwell... and I don't know how to leave. >.<
Today, I need to talk about abuse. I don't want to, desperately do not want to, but I have to, whether I like it or not. Today... I have to acknowledge a lifetime of abuse. And even as I type this, I have to acknowledge that I keep trying to sugar-coat it, to some way or somehow make those who are responsible somehow not at fault, but... we know where that path leads.
Today, I need to talk about two forms of abuse.
If you're reading this, there's a chance you've heard me reference my father's anger issues. There's a good chance you've also heard me dismiss them, often with words like "but he never struck me" or "I can understand why...". It's hard not to think like that, when you grow up in a randomly hostile household, but those are classic responses by victims of abuse.
It doesn't matter why someone abused you, what limits they set on that abuse, or even if they fought with themselves and hated themselves for doing it. It doesn't matter that your other parent defended you over and over whenever they were there to see it, or that they had heated arguments "outside your hearing" as a child about these things. It doesn't matter, because the consequences don't care about any of that and are just as devastating. They could be even more devastating, because those rays of hope kept you coming back to experience it over and over rather than finally breaking fully away.
[Editor's note: I've read a lot about these behaviors, but sure as hell never expected to be writing these kind of words about myself. >.<]
My earliest memories of my father are not happy ones. I don't remember a lot of what growing up was like. But I do remember some things. I remember, way back in early grade school, my homework assignments being torn apart in front of me because I failed to sign my name at the top. (I had to redo them completely.) I remember my father so angry he chased me around the family room of our house. (This happened multiple times.) I remember the night he got so angry he left me idling in the car, driver's side door wide open, sitting in the passenger seat as he walked towards home. These are not normal memories. And these are not things that should ever happen to a child.
My father may hate himself thoroughly for a lifetime of choices he wish he could undo, but there was no excuse for treating me in such a manner. I was innocent, and did not understand why these things were happening to me. I could not understand why someone who loved me could suddenly flip from Jekyl to Hyde, and so, I lived in fear.
I guess it's no wonder that I tried to build myself into a weapon... Fortress walls are awfully comforting when there is a real monster on the loose. And though you might yell "Fuck you!" or other such things from the top of those walls, you're still just as vulnerable if you step outside them. It's no wonder that I locked those doors. :S
I don't know what else to say about this for the moment, so I'm going to leave it here and switch tacks to my mother, and the environment in which I grew up...
I am not precisely sure how to describe what's wrong with this, but I need to try. I guess I'll start with my mom being Catholic, and very, very conservative. I've been trying to make peace with that world-view for about 29 years now, but I have failed, and this is why...
My mom's branch of conservatism is the one everyone commonly associated with Fox News. When I say that, I mean it pretty literally, as that channel was on in the kitchen, and in the upstairs TV room pretty much every hour my mom was awake. (She'd leave it on high volume so she could just walk through the house listening. When the TV wasn't on, Rush Limbaugh was, the radio in the kitchen blasting his broadcasts loud enough to be heard through a closed door. Now, I'm not going to sugar-coat this one. That stuff... *all of it*... is extremely toxic. Without even touching on the political content, which has its own problems, the way things are framed to create constant anger and feelings of victimization create an /extremely negative/ environment, 100% of the time. The simple lack of any real source of inspiration in that media is /itself/ astonishing to consider.
Bluntly, my mom is anti-gay marriage, anti-transgender rights, and quietly racist to boot. Some of that is theoretically because she is Catholic, but like many conservatives, that's not really the underlying reason. She is uncomfortable with anything that violates tradition, and uses her religion as an excuse to disparage anything outside the sphere of what she deems acceptable behavior. (See prior journals re: shame and passive-aggressive behavior for context there.)
So... Is this abuse? I'm asking honestly, because I don't know how to think about this stuff. Is it abuse to bring your child up in a house where there is a constant influx of anger and hate? What if your kid is (as I was) a member of one of the groups that is being attacked? What if you don't know?
Just to give an idea of where things are currently at, I need to share my mom's words to me when I told her I was transgender. No words of anger were spoken, but words of devastation were. "I wish I had died not knowing."
Those words have not changed since.
At this point, I'm seriously considering cutting off all contact with my parents, permanently. I'd be willing to revisit that in a few years, provided some serious on-going therapy work, but I don't know that they have that many years left. (They're older than most folks assume.) If I cut contact for 5-10 years (the kind of time period we're talking about), it's pretty likely that one or both won't be alive at that point.
Basically, I'm still processing all this, but I sure as hell don't know what to do. Input is welcome. >.<
This is going to be a difficult post. I'm a bit shaken after having returned from a movie that hit way too close to home in far too many ways... And let's get this out of the way up front. I am *very* angry.
By now, some of you will have seen The Imitation Game. If you have not, do so. The movie is about Alan Turing's work as a cryptographer during World War II. Since you're reading this on a Turing machine, it's safe to say he's someone worth knowing about.
Alan's story is a difficult one, one of the most intensely personal tragedies of the modern age. Already a social outcast due to his odd personality, he had very few friends in his life, and only one person he ever truly bonded with. And, were it ever discovered, as it was at the end of his life, even that was forbidden him. You see, homosexuality was against the law in Britain at that time. Even though his work quite arguably won the war for the allies (estimates put him ending the war 2 years early and saving 14 million lives), he was, in the end, driven to suicide by the very country he helped save. He was forced into accepting hormone therapy, chemical castration, in order to remain out of jail, and his downward spiral found only one outlet.
In him, we lost one of the most foundational geniuses of our modern world. He not only *proved*, but *built* a universal computing engine, capable of solving any problem rather than fixed functions. It is his gift that powers the very screen you read this text on, his gift that connects this entire world. He could not have known exactly how it would grow and be shaped with time, but he *knew* what a fundamental change his discovery would cause. It is a poor testament to our legacy as a civilisation that we failed him and continue to fail others to this very day. The means may be different now, but our failures endure. *That* is what this post is about.
Now, I knew this story before I saw the film. I thought I had grieved and dealt with the tragedy, but I was wrong... Why? Because his story is also, in some small part, my story... And it is also a difficult story to tell.
I've never had an easy time connecting with others... For a long time I made friends, interacted, and appeared to function normally to a large majority of folks I interacted with. Previous journals detail a bit more of than than I currently want to delve into, but a major part of finding myself over the past few years has involved the discovery of the term transgender, and the fact that it applies to me. I have been, and still am, fearful of judgement, even though I am trying daily to work a little bit at a time towards comfort in my identity.
I put out a few feelers via HR at my current workplace, trying to discover if there was insurance coverage, but beyond that, I've not really signaled very much. The few who I asked basically dropped the issue as soon as I was done asking the question, so it's clearly something that's still uncomfortable to them. I *think* the engineers and management I work with will be accepting, but it's going to be a struggle for me, especially as some of my roll is customer-facing. I'm not a field applications engineer (FAE), but I do stand in as one on occasion, and I doubt there are very many transgender ones of those...
That's today though, after my move to California, to a place that's hopefully more accepting than the state I had been living in. Arizona may be beautiful, but the minds of many of its inhabitants are sadly not as inspired as the geology that surrounds them...
While in Arizona, I worked for a small defense contractor, the name of which I'm choosing to leave off here. Said contractor isn't a name you'd recognize, but their primary work is in a similar area to Turing's. Although it's been about 20 years since being gay would result in the loss of your security clearance, transgender employees are still rare enough (and security personnel paranoid enough) to result in all sorts of awkward questions. Having gender identity issues hanging over your head makes you a prime target for blackmail if you're not out as trans, something that can result in immediate loss of clearance.
As such, I lived in fear.
Though the president signed an executive order forbidding discrimination along gender lines in all federal contractors two years ago, it only takes one person to declare you a security risk and you're done. Job, lost. Career, in tatters. Hope you've got some savings, because who's going to want to hire someone who had and then lost a clearance, even in the private sector? I thought I could probably trust my coworkers with my secret, but what if I couldn't? It only takes one.
If that wasn't problem enough, I began to have ethical problems with my work that I simply could not overcome. In the movie, Turing quickly realizes that an intelligence source that the enemy knows about is useless, a fact that remains true to this day. In order to protect access to German communications, he (and the other members of his team) had to carefully manage what intelligence they used, making sure to guard against the possibility of discovery. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands died while they watched on, knowing that to save one ship too many, one in just the wrong way, would result in the Germans changing all of their codes. They became the arbiters of life and death, a position none of them had ever desired.
And so was I. Many still are. To work with these technologies, even to build them for another's use, must imply knowledge of their purpose. These agencies, these departments, compartmentalize their knowledge, seeking to remove the ethical choice from the builders, to place it on the users of the machines. But compartmentalization is damned from the start. These people know what they're building, they know how powerful it's becoming, and they sure as hell know exactly what it's being used for. As such they are as ethically liable as anyone else. As I was.
That is not to say that these technologies are bad, that the ability to intercept and read communications is fundamentally flawed. But it does mean that when those systems are turned into targeting systems, or handed to foreign governments who abuse their own people, that we are responsible. A lot of people have asked me why I left my job in Arizona, despite knowing how "important" it was. I know there are people alive today who would not be if I had not worked there. But I also know that there are the dead.
I am no naive innocent, imagining that every conflict can be solved without the use of violence. Though I now seek peace more directly, I fully recognize that there are some people who can only be dealt with through the use of deadly force. My problem is with neither of these statements. It is with the avoidance of responsibility. And even more fundamentally than that, it is that I am a healer, and that is not my path.
So yes. I left defense contracting. I will never return. I have seen the lack of accountability that comes with secret decision making turn into erroneous claims that "you know better than the public," that your "special access to information" gives you the right to make the call that affects so many others without their knowledge. And I am done with it.
Had I been discovered with these views in my time working for them, I would also have been escorted from the premises. It's dangerous to profess Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as heroes while working for the self-same industry, even on projects that are far less egregious than the ones they disclosed. But the end is the same. I could no longer trust those who I built machines for to use them in good faith, or to not hand them over to 'allies' who imprison their own people in the name of political expediency.
No human being should have to make the choices Alan Turing made as he decided who lived and who died. We *still* make those same choices now, though we are told that others will make that decision for us in the end. It does not absolve him of his responsibility then, and it does not absolve us of ours now. Some actively avoid this knowledge, safe in the fact that the system is geared towards that isolation, but others, like myself, are leaving because we can no longer stay. We are asked to be trustworthy by a system and by people who cannot be trusted themselves, and that can no longer endure.
I'm tired of living in fear. I'm tired of living with guilt. I'm tired of pretending that this shit isn't broken, and that we aren't failing both those who serve and those who they intend to protect. I am fucking pissed, and this is the end of my imitation game.
I'm an atheist. I don't believe in much spiritually, and though I do respect the actual power those beliefs are given by those who hold them, that does have a significant impact on my world view. It causes me to reflect on a wide variety of things, up to and including what I'd like to accomplish in my short time here. (Early mid-life crisis triggered a few years ago. :P) That's a tough question to answer, especially when the goal-posts move as you try to chase them. For now, though, I've settled on a short list.
1. I want to be comfortable being myself, and exploring what that means.
2. I want to grow and love and share my life with others, including one special one in particular.
3. I want to have the world I leave be a little more beautiful and a little less afraid than the one I entered.
4. At least part of #3, includes writing. I'm an engineer, but I really want to write and inspire.
For a long time, I hadn't made progress on any of these, just kind of drifting along the paths set out for me by others. I had tremendous opportunities, for certain, but when I finished the college track (for now) and emerged into the wider world, I started to realize that I hadn't really understood what living as on my own as a free member of society meant. It turns out that, financial concerns aside for the moment, that's a pretty scary thing. Following a nice, well-worn path and then finding yourself in the middle of an unknown field, still moving quite quickly, is a jarring experience. Still, I can say with confidence that numbers one and two are in progress, and seem to be headed in a positive direction.
Number three? That's the subject I really want to touch on tonight. I've mentioned the extreme empathy thing before, and I'm not kidding. I'm pretty severely off-balance tonight, because sometimes, I just can't handle the chaos and pain I see around me. I don't quite shut down, but I feel paralyzed and frustrated, unable to do anything to help. It doesn't matter the country, the location, or the reason, suffering anywhere really hits, and hits hard.
Recently, two things in particular have weighed on me particularly heavily, both of which have all sorts of complicated political ramifications. The two issues are systemic economic insecurity/inequality and political repression/surveillance. I realize these are topics that engender more than a few strong opinions, but I'm not looking for a debate just now. This is more of a random thought-spew with a little brain-storming on the side.
I'm going to start with #1, economic insecurity/inequality... I'm going to start off by saying that I have a pretty decent job myself, and barring my own stupid financial decisions, I'm more or less okay. However... I know a lot of folks, both in and out of the fandom, who struggle to get by on a day-to-day basis. The ones lucky enough to have them work shit jobs, or multiple part-time jobs just to be able to live, and extreme hours leave them too drained to be able to actually do anything in their free hours. This is insane, as far as I can tell, systemic, and I have no idea how to go about sanely fixing it.
Number 2 is an interesting animal as well. I'm not going to touch on specifics of what's being done, why it's claimed to be necessary, or anything else. What I want to touch on is the mindset of those making the decision, both here in the US, and those in other countries around the globe. Re #1, there are a lot of very unhappy people around, and governments (our own included) seem to have gotten it into their heads that they can somehow learn about and control chaotic events. In reality, the control they seek is not only imaginary but impossible. People are inherently unpredictable, and no net, however vast, will catch everything and everyone. It isn't impossible to seek out that control, however, or hurt a vast amount of people in the attempt. Control is fundamentally something created by force, and one only has to look at repressive regimes, or chaotic ones like Iraq and Egypt, to see where that road leads.
I guess what I'm saying is this. Problems, economic and otherwise, are causing chaos that we're (as a species, not the US in particular) attempting to deal with through surveillance and control. That just doesn't work, so we need to find some way to build up support networks and trust in them. We have to start being able to trust each other and recognize that our well-being is affected by not just ourselves! How do we do that? I don't know yet, but if you bother to read the news and know people who are hurting, you know it can't really wait very long.
Comments are welcome, but I do reserve the right to hide them if stuff gets nasty. This isn't a discussion of whether these *are* problems. I believe they are, and if you want to touch on that aspect, the rest of the Internet is open to you. This place is for suggested solutions.
Some secrecy is and will always be necessary for governments to function, but too much threatens to undermine our understanding of how our own government functions and the true results of its policies. Wikileaks, or any other organization like it, cannot truly solve this problem.
Although some, including Assange himself, fantasize that the organization will produce a clampdown that makes it harder for secret channels to even function, the reality is that bureaucratic inertia will largely mitigate those type of effects. Even if it were the case that the backlash caused a breakdown in these communication channels, it cannot be ignored that actually critical information would be jeopardized as a result. We saw what happens when our government agencies don't co-operate and properly share information 9 years ago, and it would be both foolish and ironic for the same people who daily talk about the lessons of history to not have learned that lesson.
The most critical thing these leaks could possibly do is something they've already done. They have kick-started debates about the nature of the classification process itself. Congressional hearings about the organization have discussed the need to reduce the sheer amount of material that becomes classified, and others have picked up the tune, saying this is the perfect time to get moving on that subject. Before the leaks even occurred, most people understood that over-classification was a problem in the US government, and now that problem has been brought center-stage. Some of the reactions have been very troubling, yes; we may even descend into a new McCarthy-ism in the short term, but we've gotten through times worse than this before. We will again.
Reading over some of Secrecy News' latest links, I've come across a rather interesting piece of information. It is apparently both possible and encouraged for those with proper clearances to internally challenge the classification level or status of information in their care. Quoting from the most current executive order proscribing the details of the classification system: "Authorized holders of information who, in good faith, believe that its classification status is improper are encouraged and expected to challenge the classification status of the information in accordance with agency procedures established under paragraph (b) of this section."
All the time now, we hear talk about the sheer number of people now working in the defense industry. While usually cast negatively due to the secrecy ramifications, in this case, more people actually constitute an advantage. If we can start making cleared workers aware of this ability and encourage them to take advantage of it, we can have the very people who are experts in this field help to solve the problem. (At the moment bureaucratic CYA and default/derivative classification are the two main reasons we over-classify so much.)
A few related links:
This is an older essay of mine, but I feel it's still extremely topical to the current diplomatic cable mess, mainly due to the central question it poses. "Is the risk to American personnel and national security (whatever you take that term to mean) posed by this leak greater or less than the known damage the policies revealed by the leak have caused?"
War is hell, and an insurgent war doubly so. We see this in the casualties we have suffered, and the economic costs of the war. What we do not often see is the fate of the Iraqi or Afghan people caught in the middle of our conflict. Generals speak of reducing civilian casualties while we grow numb to the latest statistics occasionally reported about bombings, ambushes, and raids. In the meantime, people are dying. Not a day goes by that an Iraqi civilian is not killed, whether by our side or by theirs. What generals consider collateral damage in the war effort turns hearts and minds against us more than Muslim propaganda ever could. The death of a family member, a brother, sister, mother, slowly turns resentment into outright hate. People are dying, and no amount of freedom brings back the dead.
A question arises. A question that we must ask, and that we must carefully consider. The ramifications are vast. "Do the lives put at risk by this release outweigh the lives that may be saved by a hastened end to the war?" Every day that goes by, contractors die; soldiers die; civilians die. These people are fighting simply because we are there. We feel we cannot leave, but in staying, we turn the populace against us.
"Do the lives put at risk by this release outweigh the lives that may be saved by a hastened end to the war?" Even if one hundred people die as a direct result of this posting, they will hardly be a drop in the bucket compared to the hundred thousand that have gone before. If the answer is no, then we must stop and think about what we are doing, what we are trying to do, and how to go about it. We are losing ourselves in this war, and we are losing the people we need to win it as well.
While I hope that this disclosure costs no lives, I will not pretend to be ignorant of the facts. People are dying, and more people will die before this war is ended. These facts are cold and bare and uncomfortable, but they are true. Only by facing what is can we look beyond, to what can be.
Last night, Tunisian President Ben Ali, who has ruled the country for 23 years, declared he would not seek re-election in 2014. For years, he has maintained power by rigging election after election and ruthlessly crushing all potential rivals. Civil liberties have been non-existent, and the press has been severely curtailed when it has been allowed to function at all. Make no mistake; this is a tremendous day for the Tunisian people, who have lived under authoritarian rule since the country regained its independence in 1956.
In addition to declaring he would be stepping down in 2014, Ben Ali finally recognized the need for reforms across the board, notably including freedom of speech in his statements. Immediately following the broadcast, Internet blocks on many major websites were removed, and prominent opposition leaders appeared on live television to discuss the impending changes. This is a momentous change for a country that was rated 164 out of 178 in the Press Freedom Index (2010) and 144 out of 169 in the Economist's Democracy Index (2008). Obviously, the situation is still uncertain, as Ali controls the armed forces and security services, but it seems very unlikely he would be able to walk his statements back even if he chose to do so.
It is important to recognize those who made this progress possible. The everyday Tunisian resident who risked life and limb in the protests are the primary force behind this change, and they have braved bullets and curfews alike to make any reform possible. The leader too, brutal though he has been, realizes that change is coming, and rather than choosing to fight, has chosen to stop the violence for now. Although it is likely that he did it as a gambit to save himself and his family, it will likely save many lives in the upcoming days.
The cyberwar happening behind the scenes has also contributed greatly to the process, by enabling people to speak freely against the governments wishes and providing them with information about their government. Much of the most valuable information provided comes directly from the Wikileaks Cablegate leak that so many have condemned. Think what you will of that organization, it seems very unlikely that the US government would have been half as helpful to the Tunisian people. Beyond the simple release of this information to the Tunisian people, it is also unlikely that Anonymous would have become involved in the online conflict within the country. Without the leak, many people who helped in the online battles would likely have never heard of the country, let alone known why the people were revolting or why they needed, and deserved, help.
All the time, I hear people utter the phrase "You can't change the world." If that was true, we'd not have made it this far, seen and done all the wonderful things we have managed to eek out over the centuries. Humanity may stumble at times, but we always get back on our feet and move forward towards a better tomorrow. Today in Tunisia, light is creeping up over the horizon on a country that has made their choice and taken a stand against injustice and oppression. Events like these give us hope for the future. No matter how dark the world may seem at times, and no matter how far we may yet have to go, we must never lose the willingness to try. The long, twilight struggle is upon us, but there is always hope.
Full Disclosure: I have worked in the defense industry twice now. I interned at Rockwell Collins whilst a sophomore and am currently working for a (much) smaller contractor in the Arizona.
When I decided to go to school as an engineering major, I was mainly thinking about the ability to build cool, new things. I never really thought to wonder what things I'd be building, or for who. By the time I went to my first career fair, however, I found myself in a profession whose main employer was the defense industry. Other than basic surprise, I didn't think much of it before my pre-graduation hunt for a full-time employer.
My senior year was extremely bad for new job seekers. The financial collapse occurred just before the main career fair for the year, and the spring fair was almost non-existent compared to previous years. The only companies that were still hiring, and even growing, at this stage were the larger defense contractors: Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, and even Halliburton attended the fair, all looking for as many engineers as they could find. I should take a moment and explain that last statement slightly further. During my internship at Rockwell Collins two years prior, numerous official presentations reinforced the point that they needed to "offer every graduating engineer a job offer" to even fill the number of bodies required to continue growing the business. This is a stunning admission to make, and really shows just how quickly the defense industry is growing post 9/11.
With the job market in such disarray, I stayed on another year to complete a Masters, interning at a local consulting firm attached to the college and trying to figure out how I'd get a job with the economy headed deeper and deeper into the Great Recession, as some were now calling it. Back at school, the career fairs stayed small, but the contractors always attended and always had long lines at their booths. Before graduation, I received two job offers, giving me more options than a lot of people today, but also presenting me with the clearest vision of the difference between defense and traditional engineering employment. One promised a reasonable salary, with side benefits like medical insurance available via small paycheck deductions every month. The other offered a significantly higher salary, as well as covering insurance types I hadn't even known or cared about before, a stock purchase program, and crazy-high 401k matching.
I made a choice, and as the 'full disclosure' at the top suggests, I chose defense. I set aside my personal views and politics and chose the money, as many do every year. That still does not make it right. Since joining the company, I've had many a sleepless night wondering about the ramifications of the tech we're developing, about the potential abuses, and most importantly, about whether I should be in this industry at all.
Many people wonder why a lot of our best and brightest stay away from politics. Politics is a messy, merciless, and downright brutal profession at the best of times, and many stay away if for no other reason than to avoid having their personal lives torn apart for the sake of their job. Job safety is another reason. As a politician, you're not guaranteed to be elected even once, let alone repeatedly and if you have (or want) a family, this isn't a very reliable career path with which to provide for one. Still, those entering engineering don't initially think about the political choice they may be implicitly making.
Post 2001, and even more so since the beginning of the Great Recession, engineering has begun to shift towards being a profession largely in support of the military and, implicitly, our current foreign policy. If you think otherwise, you need only look at the power these companies now wield in Washington. Robert Reich's August 14th piece entitled America's Biggest Job Program - The Military lays out this power, and how it reinforces job growth within the defense industry.
While this cycle is devastating on its own, its ramifications have caused another even more damaging one to come into existence. We live in a world consumed by fear of the latest crisis, the latest problem and in which our elected officials offer no real solutions because they are too complex, or uninterested. We have funneled our professional problem solvers, our engineers, away from the away from our most important issues without even realizing what we have done.
I'm going to start this post by stating that I do not fully understand the underlying mess, nor am I an economist myself. I am an engineer, so I look for problems that need solving and attempt to find reasonable and optimum solutions to them.
This economic crisis, or the next one in a few year's time, may be the most transformative event the western world has experienced since WWII. We have built a hall of mirrors and shadows into our economic system in order to hide the localized costs of globalization from the general public. The structure by which this was made possible is now coming crashing down in a fury, and we need to work, and most importantly, think to get ourselves out of this. We are all guilty of action without thought in times of crisis, but that has not sufficed in the past, and it will not suffice now.
Michael Lewis, a writer for Condé Nast Portfolio, wrote a book in 1990 predicting this situation, and has a somewhat lengthy article here on the cause of our economic problems. If you wish to understand why we're in the mess we're in and what's going to happen before we can start to pull out of it, I'd highly recommend reading it. It presents his view from within the industry and details how we arrived at where we are, but unfortunately doesn't provide much in the way of solutions of how to get out of the crisis, as his outlook is a bit bleak.
Fear is an useful emotion. It drives us away from things we know to be bad for us, but it also trades off long-term goals for short-term satisfaction in many cases. It is my dearest hope that P.E. Obama realizes what we're going through and acts only after carefully considering what must be done, but I fear, as do many Americans, that he is just a continuation of the leadership failures we've had for so long. We will see in the coming months. Isolationism should never be our goal, but it is now more apparent than ever that we must turn inward and address our concerns at home as soon as is realistically possible, or we will fall apart from the inside.
America is a nation divided. We are not divided by borders, nor by parties; we are note even divided by opinions, but by knowledge and the willingness to use it. Opinions stem from experience and wisdom, but even more so the ability to classify and use them.
If you were to take a poll of the top scientists in the world and ask them if they feel that evolution is a valid and correct theory, the result would be between 95-100% acceptance. If you were to take the same poll in Mississippi, which has the 50th ranked schools in the nation and pushes "Intelligent" Design at every opportunity, you'd likely end up with a rather different answer. Intelligence of the students is only one part of the equation. Fear is another. In that, and many other parts of the world, religion is used as a thought shield to protect the human mind against possibilities it does not want to face. The counter to this has finally emerged, however, and an humanistic atheist approach to life is slowly emerging around the globe. We need no longer be afraid of the darkness, the unknown, and now we can get on with our lives and build a better world for the future rather than hiding in the static shadows of the past.
Statistically, those with more money and higher education pick more atheistic routes through life, and in many cases, more humanistic ones as well. Many polls have taken place on this subject, but college graduates have historically had the highest rates of atheist approaches to life, and from a humanistic perspective, that is why so many become involved in politics. They know what is at stake and that what we do now will affect theirs and their children's futures, so they devote time and effort to making sure it will be a good one.
The two party system that has divided us for so long takes advantage of the gap between poor and rich, and has promoted anti-intellectualism as a way of propping itself up. That is now changing. The explosion of the internet and the knowledge contained within may well be the most destructive and creative force of our time, and focused properly, it will change the world at a whirlwind pace.
Our current economic crisis is the best current example of the difference between the new generation and those that are nearing retirement. We see opportunity in failure, and the ability to rebuild a stronger financial base in the place of those institutions that are falling like dominoes today. We must not abandon the lessons of history as we write another chapter, however, and only through careful consideration of the options and objective assessment can we hope to end this with a minimum of pain for all involved.
I've decided to start ending these posts with a quote from the wisest source I can find on a particular issue.
In the words of Frank Herbert, creator of the dune series:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
[Originally posted on Blogger during my angry politics phase. Please take this journal with a grain of salt and realize I've grown a lot since then. :)]
President-Elect Barack Obama has claimed victory in a race of historic proportions. A public burdened by war and economic problems spoke out tonight and decided to create a new vision of the future. It will now be up to our new President-Elect to transition away from what has been and to what must be, and it will be a rocky road in every respect. The culture of the universal police that has slowly built up must fade away into the darkness from whence it came, and must be replaced by a newfound respect for one another, and a focus on rebuilding what has been lost in this country.
Four key tasks await the P.E. Obama, and none of them will be easy. All of them focus on long-term goals, which have been long forgotten in this country.
The war in Iraq and Afghanistan must be ended as quickly as possible without totally destabilizing the region. We must recognize that we cannot simply leave overnight, but that said, we must move quickly. The Iraqi people's readiness for democracy is not a function of our participation at this point, but is now a choice they will have to make. Religion and cultural views cloud our judgments as much as they do theirs, and they may simply not accept that form of government as a result. An added benefit of this withdrawal is that it will allow us to refocus our funds on rebuilding education and critical infrastructures that must be upgraded and rebuilt.
I come from the same city as P.E. Obama, and he knows better than most just how terrible our current school system is. No child left behind has been a disaster, and has only worsened conditions in many schools. Part of the needed change is that we must relax regulations on firing teachers and require mandatory competence testing, to make sure our educators are themselves ready. Hand-in-hand with this, we must advocate and properly fund scientific education and research so that we do not backslide and fade into "just another country."
Economically, we have witnessed a failure in the free-market system we so enjoy. To say is was solely the "greed of Wall Street" is to only lie to ourselves, and we must admit that the structure we have built up encourages CEOs to drive stock prices up at any cost, less they lose their jobs due to a short term loss. The new P.E. has some experience in this field, and it will be up to him; but the pull-out from Iraq is also a requirement to repair the damage done. Without it, we will never balance the budget enough to pay for the programs we already have, let alone new ones.
Critical infrastructures throughout the US have been slowly degrading. Many components of the Eisenhower highway system has lasted well beyond its expected lifetime, and is in need of significant rebuilds in many areas, most of them densely populated. The power grid, which is currently built to provide power from a few central generating stations, must be rebuilt to handle the new forms of renewable energy that are coming into the market, as well as the adoption of plug-in hybrids and electric cars.
P.E. Obama has a long road to travel. If he keeps to his word and keeps the people informed of not just what, but why decisions are being made to some effect, he will accomplish what he has set out to do and much more. It rests on him, and on our willingness to listen, now.