Of Cattle and Conservatives (Inevitable Update)

So yet another week and news has come to light the our good friend and five-gallon hat model, Cliven Bundy has found his way back into the spotlight to grab another fifteen minutes of fame.

Last week, I wrote a lengthy tirade about Mr. Bundy and his gun-brandishing friends. I received a fair bit of flack in private conversations over several comments therein, and I’d like to address them directly. Firstly, I was called out for this line:

Make no mistake about it, these people came with the intention of starting a war, the very “Second Amendment Solution” that has captured the hearts and imaginations of a certain shrinking demographic since they looked around and saw all these colored folks in positions of authority and queers destroying the traditional family, or whatever.”

The complaint was a simple one that, on the surface, had some merit. The person in question felt that it was unfair of me to paint the entire “conservative” movement with the broad brush of racism and homophobia, and that it was perfectly possible to side with Bundy over grazing permits and public land use issues without also being a racist, homophobic fuck.

This is true insofar as it is technically possible, but really, how likely is it? Mr. Bundy’s now infamous tirade about the “Negros” is instructive and really helps to validate my initial characterization of the average character of the people who are attracted to his cause. Not all rectangles are squares, but all squares sure seem to be rectangles. After years of courting the angry old white man demographic and doing everything possible to paint any sort of social progress and expansion of equality as government overreach and persecution, why is anyone surprised that all the racists seemed to have funneled themselves into one corner of the political spectrum?

And really, is anyone at this point surprised that Mr. Bundy thinks black people were happier as slaves? He hasn’t paid to feed and water his cattle in twenty years, do you really think he wants to pay his workers?

The second issue I was taken to task over was my characterization of the armed “protesters” who arrived to intimidate federal authorities as domestic terrorists. Especially in light of the fact that I am not only a gun owner and Concealed Carry Permit holder, but because I have, in times past, protested while carrying a gun myself.

This is completely true, I have attended protests while carrying a firearm. However, context and behavior is everything in this case. A number of years ago gun owners here in WI were facing harassment from Law Enforcement Officers for openly carrying side-arms in public. It is important to understand that at the time, open-carry was perfectly legal in WI. The owners involved had broken no laws, and had threatened no one.

Yet in any number of incidents, the police were called in to harass and even arrest them on trumped-up or entirely invented charges. It got so bad that at one point, the state Attorney General wrote a letter to state Law Enforcement Agencies forbidding them from harassing gun owners who were otherwise obeying the law. During this time, I carried a handgun openly and attended several “sit-in” type demonstrations with a copy of the AG’s letter in my back pocket. We had several challenging, even tense conversations with LEO’s during these events, but ultimately the point sunk in and the harassment stopped.

What none of us did was some stupid shit like this fucking asshole:

bundy-tea-bagger-sniper-eric-parker-from-central-idaho

That’s a man named Eric Parker from Idaho. He is not a peaceful protester. He is pointing a high-powered rifle downrange from a position of cover. He is a threat to the safety of every LEO and civilian in the area. Pointing a muzzle at other people is not protected speech under the First Amendment. It is dangerous, awful gun-handling, and illegal. He should be arrested, and he’s lucky he wasn’t shot by a real sniper.

This wasn’t a protest about Second Amendment rights where the presence of guns would make sense as symbolic instruments. The militia showed up not to protest peacefully as is their right under the First Amendment, but to threaten and intimidate LEO’s with the promise of deadly violence.

If ANY of the people who had been at our sit-ins in WI had pulled their gun and pointed it at ANYONE, we would have fed them to the police ourselves, because that sort of publicity would be simply devastating to the image of gun owners and the chances of our cause being properly understood by the public, not to mention being stupid and illegal. That is the difference.

Of Cattle and Conservatives

Another week, another overblown media sensation. The centerpiece of this episode is a man who goes by Cliven Bundy. On the surface, Mr. Bundy would appear to be a model American hero. A plain-spoken cattle rancher living in Nevada, his cowboy hat and stubborn resolve are the stuff of dime-store novels.

But just as book covers are not the final arbiters of the quality of their contents, our first impressions of Mr. Bundy are equally deceiving. For the last twenty odd years, Mr. Bundy has waged an unrelenting battle against the Bureau of Land Management, which is a federal agency tasked with, as the name suggests, managing public lands held by the federal government. You see, Mr. Bundy’s cattle don’t actually live on Mr. Bundy’s land. He holds no deed to the disputed territory and never has. His herd grazes on public lands, and drinks from public water sources. “Public” btw, is another way of saying you and I own it.

Because Mr. Bundy is therefore exploiting and profiting from the public by fattening up his cattle on publicly owned grazing land and water (a point that shouldn’t be overlooked in the water-scarce desert southwest) the BLM has asked him and every other rancher in the same position to get permits and pay a fee to compensate the public for the resources they are extracting. This is a perfectly normal, well-established function of government that will be familiar to anyone who has ever hunted public lands, fished in public waters, harvested wood from public forests, or dozens of other examples.

In the case of Mr. Bundy and other area ranchers, these fees amount to roughly $5 per head of cattle per month. Growing up in rural Wisconsin as I did, surrounded by family-run dairy farms like the Hell’s, I have a pretty good idea of what it costs to feed and water cattle, and $5 a month isn’t unreasonable, at all. My parents kept horses in my youth, and their hay and grain came to much more than that. I can’t feed the six-pound cat I live with for $5 a month, for god’s sake.

Here’s where Mr. Bundy goes from stalwart defender of the American frontier to something much more selfish. Since 1993, Mr. Bundy has flatly refused to pay his fees for exploiting public land and water. For more than twenty years, he has been freeloading off of resources collectively owned by all of us to fatten up his herds before selling them back to us to eat. His excuses for his theft from public coffers include, but are by no means limited to, the defense that his ancestors have been grazing the same land for over a century and a refusal to recognize federal authority. But neither of these excuse the fact that he holds no rights over the land in question, nor does it excuse him from his responsibility to compensate the public for the resources his cattle are extracting.

As of today, Mr. Bundy owes you and I in excess of $1.1 million. While at first glance this sum may seem excessive, even unduly oppressive, let’s take a moment to look at the math. For twenty years, Mr. Bundy has scoffed at paying his meager $5 monthly fee on a herd of approximately nine-hundred cattle. That works out to $54,000 per year, over twenty years puts you right around the $1.1 million mark. Remember, even though this  story has only just now come into the public consciousness, it has been bubbling along below the surface for a generation already.

Mr. Bundy has had his day in court against the BLM, several times, and has lost every time. Not only that, but the BLM has tried to negotiate with this intransigent thief, offering to reduce the amount that he owes to as low as $1.35 per head per month at one point. But not only has Mr. Bundy declined that offer and scoffed at several court orders dating back to 1998 ordering him to remove his cattle, but he’s actually exacerbated the problem by expanding the range on which his cattle are illegally grazing twice, now to include parts of the Lake Mead Recreational Area, a popular tourist attraction.

In short, Mr. Bundy is a deadbeat, and proud of his freeloading. This doesn’t particularly interest me. There are many millions of selfish people in the world who gladly exploit others for their own gain. This is not surprising.

But what is surprising and upsetting, at least to me, is how the “Conservative” movement has galvanized around this man, completely abandoning their own core principles and arguments in the process.

The reason this story finally broke into the public awareness is because a couple of weeks back after dickering around for twenty years trying to get a deadbeat tenant to pay his rent, the BLM finally had enough and took measures to recoup a portion of what Mr. Bundy owes the U.S. Taxpayers. To that end, they began confiscating a portion of Mr. Bundy’s cattle herd, cattle that had been grown to maturity on public grass and water. Again, this is a completely normal function of government.

Here’s where it gets weird, almost surreal. Instead of supporting the taxpayers against someone that has been doing more than his fair share to contribute to the U.S. debt, conservative media rallied around Mr. Bundy, casting him as the victim of big-government oppression and as an example of government regulation stamping on the rights of a poor, defenseless business owner.

For reasons almost too numerous to count, this characterization of the situation is utterly ridiculous. Yet it struck a familiar chord with the usual chorus of anti-government fetishists and vigilante militia thugs. In short order, over a thousand “protesters” swarmed the area, many of them carrying long guns (no, they’re not assault weapons, which is a fucking stupid and redundant term) and sidearms with the hope of being at the flashpoint for a new American Revolution.

Make no mistake about it, these people came with the intention of starting a war, the very “Second Amendment Solution” that has captured the hearts and imaginations of a certain shrinking demographic since they looked around and saw all these colored folks in positions of authority and queers destroying the traditional family, or whatever. They went so far in their standoff with the BLM as to suggest putting women and children out front to use them as human shields in case the lead started flying, because of the psychological impact such a graphic scene would have on the American people. That’s right, people claiming the banner of “Patriots” have adopted tactics straight out of Saddam Hussein’s playbook, apparently completely blind to the irony of standing up to a “tyrannical” government using the methods of an actual tyrant.

Whatever else they may be, the last thing you should think of these vandals and provocateurs as is Conservative, even if that’s the label they falsely wrap themselves in.  Real Conservatives respect the rule of law, or at least they used to. Real Conservatives believe in both individual freedom and personal responsibility. And real Conservatives concern themselves with matters of fiscal responsibility.

Mr. Bundy and the droves of militia members who flocked to shield him do not meet any of these criteria. For all the talk we hear from the right-wing media lambasting the “takers” sucking off the public teet, I can think of very few welfare recipients who have managed to fatten themselves up to the tune of $1.1 million. In a party that pretends to concern itself over public debt, why has not one of them pointed out the fact that Mr. Bundy has contributed more to that ongoing crisis than most people ever could?

As a conservative, I am ashamed at the way the rightwing has embraced this deadbeat, and as a gun owner, I am appalled at the lengths they have gone to support his continued fight to avoid compensating the American taxpayer for what he’s stolen. Responsible gun owners, like myself, use their weapons for sport, sustenance, and self-defense. They do NOT go looking for fights with law enforcement officers, and they most certainly do not use their weapons to defend a proven law-breaker and deadbeat from the consequences of his own misdeeds. At best, these people are all guilty of obstruction of justice and should be arrested and charged accordingly. At worst, they are domestic terrorists bent on using fear and violence to achieve their political aspirations of dismantling the federal government created by the very Constitution they paradoxically claim to be upholding.

They keep using those words, conservative and patriot. I don’t think they mean what they think they mean. My only hope is that when this is all over, my local AJ Bombers will have a special on “Conflict Burgers.” I’d gladly pay double for that beef.

Come to think of it, I already have.

End Women’s Softball

Hold on, put down the torches and hear me out. Softball is great, and nothing I’m about to say is meant to take away from the dedication and athleticism of the women who play it at the collegiate level. Just the opposite, actually.

First, I need to tell you a story. It’s the opening week of Major League Baseball throughout the U.S.A. (and Toronto, I suppose). Hundreds of thousands of fans have already gone through the turn-styles of all thirty major league parks to cheer on their favorite professional ball players, while consuming enough beer, hot dogs, and cheese of questionable provenance to ensure that they’ll never be in shape to take the field themselves.

It was on a lazy afternoon at about this time of year in 1931 that an exhibition game between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the New York Yankees should have made history. In the exhibition game in Chattanooga, a young woman named Jackie Mitchell was on the mound for the Lookouts. But she wasn’t there as a sideshow act or cheap promotional stunt. Despite being only seventeen years old, Jackie was already a professional pitcher in the minor leagues. She earned her place on the mound that day, and she went on to silence her critics by striking out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, indisputably two of the greatest sluggers ever to play the game, at an age most players are still in high school. The crowd absolutely lost their shit falling over themselves to cheer on her achievement.

Days later, the MLB voided her contract and banned women from playing a game which was “too strenuous” for their frail, feminine bodies.

While the ban was technically lifted in 1992, women still have not found a place on any major league team. Of all professional sports, I believe that baseball is by far the best suited for full integration. Compared to football, hockey, or basketball, it is not a full-contact sport where women would be at a disadvantage (on average). Of all pro-sports, Baseball is by many measures the most technical, with hand-eye coordination and reflexes being of greater importance in some positions than physical strength or speed.

Which is where we come to Softball. The simple truth is softball is an artificial means of segregating men and women at the college level, where professional teams are drafting and recruiting talent from. The fact women are encouraged to play softball puts them at a huge disadvantage when it comes to scouting talent because they simply aren’t playing the same game. It becomes an apples-to-oranges comparison. How does a fast-pitch softball pitcher’s stats stack up against those of a baseball pitcher’s? What’s the conversion? The same is true of hitting, fielding, basically every mechanic of the game. With the larger ball and smaller field, it is just different enough that accurate comparisons are elusive at best.

Eliminating softball at the college level, even if the teams remain divided between genders, eliminates this problem. Professional scouts would instantly start paying attention to women’s baseball, and would have an easier time arguing their case to management if they found someone they believed in. I believe female athletes would adapt very quickly, especially if the change started at the grass roots in high schools across the country. And while player development time in baseball is typically longer than it is in football, for example, I believe that we would start seeing the first female MLB starting players within no more than five to seven years of the elimination of softball.

Softball is a great sport with a proud tradition, but I believe that at this moment in time, it has become a hindrance to the opportunities open to female athletes. It’s time to put softball out to pasture and truly level the playing field.

Update, 8/21/14: I’m a little late to the party on this one, but a female pitcher is making waves in the Little League world. Mo’Ne Davis has helped propel her team to the LLWS.