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Freely Choosing To Lose Your Freedoms, or 'I Got Bills To Pay!' 1

US staff lose jobs over smoke ban

Four workers in the United States have lost their jobs after refusing to take a test to see if they were smokers.

They were employees of Michigan-based healthcare firm Weyco, which introduced a policy banning its staff from smoking - even away from the workplace.
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Weyco gave its staff a stark ultimatum at the end of last year - either stop smoking completely on 1 January or leave their jobs.

The four workers who refused to take the test left their jobs voluntarily, although a lawyer for Weyco confirmed the company was preparing to dismiss them.

The firm says that, as its business is to help other firms save money and improve employee health through its benefit plans, it is only natural it should take a lead on the issue.
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But opponents say it is a violation of workers' rights to indulge whatever habits they choose to when they are off-duty, particularly as smoking is legal and does not impair people's ability to do their jobs.

According to Reuters news agency, Mr Weyers wants to turn his attention next to overweight workers.

"We have to work on eating habits and getting people to exercise. But if you're obese, you're (legally) protected," he said.

The BBC's Jannat Jalil in Washington says that if the firm survives any future legal challenges, it could set a precedent for other companies to follow suit.

"Certainly it raises an interesting boundary issue," job placement specialist John Challenger told Reuters. "Rising healthcare costs and society's aversion to smoking versus privacy and freedom rights of an individual."

Talk about slippery slopes...("If you want to keep your job you can't marry that person — our DNA tests show your fiance has a latent medical condition that has a 75% chance of becoming malignant, and hence too costly for our insurance carrier." "Our psychology tests indicate you have a sullen disposition. Of course that's bad for morale. Sorry, but we've got to let you go." "You kid's grade average has dropped...we don't like your television viewing habits...you voted for a republicrat...")

No matter how "democratic" your country may pretend to be, nor how many "liberties" one is "allowed" in their country, if you spend the majority of your waking life working for The Man you lose those liberties when you walk through his door.

In the language of Chomsky, the power structure of the private economy is a very tyrannical structure, and corporations are basically unaccountable private tyrannies controlled from above.

So what recourse does one have if they don't like the intrusive infringements of their tyrannical overlords? They can quit — which, though perhaps a truly desired action, is hardly a prospect most people willingly choose to face given a lack of alternatives.

What's the point in claiming that one has a great deal of liberty in their democratic society when those liberties are stripped by the social institutions that provide a living? I suppose one can claim they have freely chosen to trade their liberty for a paycheck rather than choose homelessness. (After all, no one's forcing you to pee in a cup if you want a job. No one's saying that you can't quit if you want some degree of privacy and prefer that your employers don't read your emails.) But hey, at least humanity has made some progress: wage slaves are treated a hell of a lot better than slaves of the past!

Welcome to the modern definition of freedom, a definition that dwindles the grand potential of our existence to a crabbed, meagre drudge nicely encapsulated by the German expression Arbeit Macht Frei. By this definition I suppose Roman galley-slaves were also free: after all, they could choose to row or die.

While we're discussing freedom it's probably good to remind Murkans that, in the Orwellian spirit of the times, freedom has a wacky new definition. To quote the great political philosopher Rudolph Giuliani: 'Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.' Just remember this next time you do something you shouldn't, like smoke or think bad thoughts — like, say, quitting your job.

'A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers....'
   —Aldous Huxley


Hitler with Watermelon

Hitler with Watermelon

Maybe A Good Ass-Raping Will Learn 'Em!

Q: What do you get when you cross a Police State, Cultural Paranoia, and Political Correctness?

Students Arrested Over 'Violent' Stick Figure Drawings

OCALA, Fla. -- Two boys, ages 9 and 10, were charged with felonies and taken away from school in handcuffs, accused of making violent drawings of stick figures.

The boys were arrested Monday on charges of making a written threat to kill or harm another person, a second-degree felony.

The special education students used pencil and red crayon to draw primitive stick figure scenes on scrap paper that showed a 10-year-old classmate being stabbed and hung, police said.

"The officer found they were drawing these pictures for the sole purpose of intimidating and scaring the victim," said Ocala Police Sgt. Russ Kern.

The boy depicted in the drawings told his teacher, who took the sketches and contacted the school dean, Marty Clifford. Clifford called police, who arrested the boys after consulting with the State Attorney's Office.
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Ocala police said they stand behind the decision to arrest the children.

"When an adult or even myself look at the picture looked at it at first I was thinking there is really not much to the picture or I would not be that scared by the picture those children drew," Ocala police spokesman Russ Kearn said. "However, we have to put ourselves in his mind and that's the bottom line here. It is his well-being and the way he perceived that picture to be. It actually put him in extreme fear and he was in fear for his life."

Good thing the stick figures weren't stabbing Bush and making him cry, 'cause they'd be sure to get a one-way trip to Gitmo for being ter'rists!

To me this sets a new standard in pedagogical practices that include suspending a student for wearing a Pepsi t-shirt to his school on "official Coke Day", suspending six-year-olds from school for "sexual harrassment" after kissing a classmate, and forbidding a 7-year-old from using the word "gay" after discussing his lesbian mom with a classmate.

Just as there are Darwin Awards to celebrate those who self-select themselves out of the gene-pool I'm wondering if maybe there should also be Lead Cup Awards to celebrate the wondrously misguided ways a culture implements self-destructive practices.


Another Gain For The Police States of Murka

High court OKs drug dog use, rules no suspicion needed at stops

The Supreme Court on Monday expanded police power to conduct searches, ruling that an officer who stops a motorist for a routine traffic violation can use a drug-sniffing dog to detect narcotics in the vehicle, even if the officer had no reason to suspect the car would contain drugs.
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Ralph Meczyk, Caballes' lawyer, criticized the Supreme Court decision, saying it goes well beyond what the court has previously allowed, giving police "unbridled authority" to conduct searches of vehicles. He said that "erodes all citizens' constitutional rights.

"This has an amazing, tremendous, incalculable impact on all citizens," he said.

"As long as you're driving a car, it doesn't take much to commit a traffic violation. That's enough for them to stop you, and once they stop you, that's the end of it," Meczyk said. "You can be subject to a humiliating search at the side of the road."
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"But the court's stated reasoning provides no apparent stopping point short of such excesses," Souter wrote.

Meczyk and Sullivan predicted the reasoning in Monday's case would lead police to push the envelope and use drug dogs in those contexts. During arguments, several justices had appeared troubled that the next case would ask whether police could search a house if a drug-sniffing dog had alerted them to the presence of drugs inside.

"Logically extended to the next case, the house is the next one," Meczyk said.


Faces of Anguish

Faces of Anguish: Despair, horror and grief minutes after U.S. troops shot their parents dead.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Traumatized Five siblings were orphaned when U.S. soldiers fired on their car Jan. 18 after it failed to stop at a checkpoint in Tal Afar, Iraq at dusk. Their parents, who were in the front seat, were both killed and one child suffered non-life threatening wounds. The U.S. military said it was investigating.

While the obscenely ostentatious inauguration celebrations commenced last week it was this heart-rending photo, accompanied by these captions, that greeted commuters from newstands on their way to work last week — filling fully half of the front page of the Toronto Star, one of the major dailies here. Just thought I'd share it in case such images aren't seen by our neighbors to the south. This is what is being done in the name of Americans with their tax dollars as they help Iraq become "free" and "democratic."

I once heard a BushCo supporter trivialize tragedies such as this with the expression "In a battle between elephants the ants get squashed." I will never forget this phrase as long as I shall live. Perhaps it should become America's new motto.

This, and other such images, is how the world sees America — just in case anyone is wondering why 1) so many Americans are thinking of flooding across their northern border, and 2) why the world's opinion of America has plummeted.


I Can Hear The Rats Laughing In My Rafters

Normally I get an average of around thirty visits a day, half of them, lately, coming from my latest post (almost a month old) at Moving to Canada, eh?. (Seems like there are lots of visitors to that site!) Imagine my surprise when I checked my stats before breakfast and saw more than 250 hits. Now add an order of magnitude to my surprise when I discovered that half of these hits were to one of my very first posts, from back in May, about how I felt seeing iPod's urban ad campaign!

I expected quite a few hits upon the publication of Andrew Buncombe's article at The Independent, and another surge once David Hesse's article at the Neue Zurcher Zeitung is published, but to discover so many hits from such an old article was something of a sucker punch to me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

There's been a lot of unintended silence here...certainly no one is sorrier than I about that.

There's an expession that goes something to the effect that "If you want a job done, give it to a busy person." I had a week off recently. Somehow I had the notion that I'd be able to do even more blogging during my vacation. Foolish Lohmann! For a variety of reasons (many painfully stupid) I just could not get to it. Now that I'm back at work I can start blogging again. (Though I must say that I am under the impression that I need to be vigilant since someone at work is making veiled threats by discussing instances of bloggers getting fired from their jobs 'cause of their blogs — but that's another story for another time).

Before my vacation began I was contacted by David Hesse, a journalist for the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, the largest (conservative) political daily in Switzerland. He was on assignment to do a story about Murkans abandoning ship for Canada. He discovered me via my first post at Moving to Canada, eh? and contacted me for an interview.

Within two minutes of finalizing my plans to meet with him at a local pub I received an email from Andrew Buncombe, a DC-based reporter for the excellent British paper The Independent, wanting to interview me for the very same reason.

I guess Europeans are curious about us Murkans desperate to leave their homeland for a better life in Canada. I suppose they wanted to ascertain the depth and extent of the veracity behind the myth of Murkans flooding over the border after the recent "election." As well they should be — it's no wonder that Europeans would be curious about the phenomenon, given, as one example amongst countless, the results of a recent global poll that reveals a very anti-Bush world. As animals fleeing an area portend some geophysical catalcysm like earthquakes or tsunamis, I suppose getting a guage on the degree to which Murkans are emmigrating can serve a similar function. Personally I can't help but wonder what a similar poll taken after Germany's Reichstag elections of 1933 would conclude, as well as emmigration rates after that election.

I can understand the allure for reporters (and potential emigres) to want to talk with people like me, so I'm happy to help out.

I cautioned both reporters that I'm far more articulate with my fingers than with my mouth: I'm the sort who forms my thoughts in writing, and am not so good thinking on my feet — which often have a tendency to find their way to my mouth. This may make for good copy for them in direct proportion to my embarrassment, and this was a source of legitimate concern to me. Thus I was very hesistant to speak with either of them, but I (naively?) placed myself at their good graces with the hope they would hear the thoughts behind the sentences I would most likely misspeak.

I also mentioned that I would prefer to be known by my blog name rather than my real one. Neither reporter was happy to hear this, of course, but that's just the way it was going to be if they wanted to talk with me.

Just before getting together with David, the Swiss reporter, he happened to mention that he was bringing along a photographer — a nice surprise at the last moment. He assured me that they'd only take a picture if I was comfortable with that (I wasn't), but I knew I'd be nagged for a picture throughout the night (I was).

We all punctually arrived at the appointed time. They looked very euro-trendy in their black leather jackets and black pants and David's black turtleneck. I was definitely a little nervous since I'd never done anything like this before, but they were both very gracious.

The pub was surprisingly noisy — I wanted our meeting to occur in a quiet, nice little pub, which this place generally was. However there was some big hockey game that night and the place was packed. Every so often the entire pub would explode in deafening shouts and applause.

I think it only took two sentences before I was chewing my toes: I said something to the effect of "Well I'm just another paranoid American" — (scribble scribble scribble) "I'm using that," says he. Great — barely begun and I've already pulled the rug out from under myself.

At some point he asked if I really meant to compare BushCo with Hitler and the Nazis. This was very dangerous ground, especially coming from a European. If I could have answered in writing I would be confident I could steer clear of the mines. But now I was on the spot — do I dare make any comparison between them? I answered carefully that one cannot claim they are comparable by the mere fact that BushCo doesn't use brown-shirts to beat up people, doesn't use storm troopers to invade homes, etc. — generally BushCo doesn't employ overt violence against its enemies and targets at home, and they generally take care with their language to sound reasonable and inoffensive. Then I very carefully tried to explain that they are of a kind though of a vastly different degree.

He did come to the table with an interesting point of view. At one point he asked me if I saw the war on terror in any way as a cultural war, specifically one to protect Western Culture against the incursions of Islamic ideologies. This gave me a hint that he was approaching the matter from a certain perspective, so I queried him on the topic. As a European, closer to the theatre of conflict, this question of protecting Western Culture against Islamic Culture has more meaning to him than it would to an American. I had the impression that he does indeed consider there to be a cultural conflict between these two societies and that the west does have a legitimate concern in protecting itself from cultural incursions. I referred him to Paul Kennedy's excellent book Preparing for the Twenty First Century which discusses what are, to me, the real (ie, ecological, economic, and political) reasons behind some of his concerns for the causes behind mass migrations from the poorer middle-eastern countries to the wealthier western ones.

At one point I compared 911 to the Burning of the Reichstag. He asked me if I really wanted to make that comparison. This time I felt comfortable answering in the affirmative.

I also sensed that part of his curiosity about the phenomenon of Murkans leaving Murka to go to Canada was kinda silly — after all, aren't they really practically the same culture? What's the big deal, I felt from him, since it's like a giant step sideways? I tried to convince him that Canada and America are, in fact, two very different countries from a cultural as well as historical perspective. Though there are many obvious social similarities, they are, indeed, two very different cultures with two very different cultural worldviews. I referred him to another book that explains these differences exceedingly well: Michael Adam's book Fire and Ice. He already knew the book, and he seemed surprised that I would agree with the author's assertions. Indeed, he seemed surprised, generally, that every American who'd come to Canada that he'd spoken with while researching his article expressed the same viewpoint. He either couldn't, or didn't want to, believe that the two so outwardly similar countries really are, fundamentally, all that different. (Unless, of course, he was pulling that Henry James European bullshit on me.)

It finally turned out to be a long (though short-seeming) and most pleasant evening filled with copious libation and lively and fascinating conversation — even if David constantly prodded and mocked me so as to divulge my "real" name; yet though he played on my guilt like a violin I held steadfast in my refusal.

However he did succeed in guilting me into providing him with a photograph a week later ("my boss is obviously killing me for not having a pic of you"). I just couldn't refuse such a nice, manipulative guy. I ultimately gave him an almost cliched picture of me in a long dark coat, a one-quarter profile looking out from my balcony over my new snow-covered country.

I'm curious to know what he writes — he seemed to make scribbles when I didn't think it was warranted, and didn't scribble when I thought it was. I must admit to a bit of fear as to how I'll come across: I have a tiny inkling of what it must feel like to people habitually in the public eye who must fear being quoted out of context, being misunderstood, and made to look foolish. It's no wonder people in the public eye are trained to speak in soundbytes and ambiguities.

But what's done is done, and I had a very nice evening with two very interesting and intelligent people.

I offered Andrew, the reporter for The Independent, the chance for a phone conversation since he wasn't going to be in town. Ultimately he was too busy to put me through that wringer and ended up writing an article that included stuff on my blog and answers to a couple of email questions. Hindsight being 20/20 I would have spent more time coming up with something more elegantly worded, clever and specific than what he included, but that's the way it goes. We had a very nice email exchange, and it was a prod from him that finally got me to break my silence and make this post. Andrew's very good article can be found here.

It's hard "returning to the fray" after an absence — it's like re-entering a cold pond after having gotten dried and warmed-up. But I expect soon I'll be back in the swing of things.

And "Thank You!" to Harry, Jon, et alia, Andrew, and David for your interest and support.


As Ever...

The young men, for all their godlike greatness, die: the old men, the women and children suffer and grieve: the gods, exempt from pain, look on.

   —Martin Hammond (from his Introduction to one of my favorite translations — a modern prose translation, yet! — of Homer's Iliad)