Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The truth in the lie

For my birthday, a very intelligent and thoughtful friend of mine gave me the book Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. I suggest it to anyone that wants to read a non-partisan opinion about our state of affairs.

Something that has been brought to my attention lately (not by Mr. Beck), is regarding finding the truth in the lie that has been told. In this case, the truth is that our country is not in trouble because of flat screen tv's, economic disparity between the classes, or any single politician. The truth is that the underlying reasons behind such effects (as to why people go into debt for material possessions, why some people strive to work hard while others beg for handouts and freebies, and why our leaders have taken America down a road we did not entrust them to go) have far more to do with where we are today than do the effects themselves. Finger-pointing doesn't fix anything, and it often doesn't even illuminate much if anything. It just avoids getting down to the real business of fixing what we broke.

We need to stop pointing fingers. Yes, taxation is strangling us (the taxpayers), debt spending is crippling us, our foreign policies can be compared to a circus, our leaders are selfish and do not often work for the benefit of anyone but themselves. The lie is that knowing all that stuff is enough to do anything about it. The truth is that we need to take a hard look at insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It is insane for anyone currently holding office at the national level to get another crack at the job they're doing. Show me a congressman (or congresswoman, for you P.C. types) standing up and standing out trying to change the partisan bickering and actually writing bills that address the real needs of the taxpaying, law abiding citizens of this country, and I'll show you a con-artist.

When we quit voting for people's character, we quit voting for morality. When we made excuses for our elected leader's personal behavior, we quit holding ourselves to any standard. How can we expect someone to go in and "clean up Capital Hill" when we overlook the fact that they have been accused of tax evasion, racketeering, insider trading.... If we turn a blind eye to our elected leaders' criminal activities, how can we be angry at them for turning blind eyes to corruption around them? The truth is that we can't.

We tolerate things from our elected public servants that we would never tolerate from our kids or even our next door neighbors. Why? Because we believed the lie when we were told it didn't matter.

So the question becomes, what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Get over yourself Ma'am

Senator Boxer* would like it if you would remember her station in life. In short, she got offended that an Army Brigadier General called her "Ma'am" instead of "Senator". The article goes on to explain in brief the Army protocol for referring to pretty much everyone as "sir" or "ma'am".

So let's look at what "ma'am" means:
I'm not sure how anyone can see any of those definitions as anything other than respectful, but that's not good enough for Senator Boxer.

"You know, do me a favor," an irritated Boxer said. "Could say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am?'"

She didn't say "You know, General, do me a favor". She spoke to a military general as if he was some punk kid disrupting class, and she demanded that he show her respect through her title, because his actions and words weren't respectful enough.

I am offended at her littleness. This is arrogant and ridiculous, and all because "ma'am" does not defer enough authority to her. Please. One day she'll just be a has-been, once-was ex-senator, and then she'll just be a "ma'am" again, unless of course she's in the company of the general public, where she'll be lucky to get that.

I did enjoy Gen. Walsh's response to her request:

"Yes ma'am."

Hooah, Sir.

*read the whole article.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

All the things we carry

The average civilian carries around not only the trappings of their profession -- briefcase, laptop, purse, diaperbag -- but also the trappings of their mind -- worry, stress, guilt, shame. This is called "normalcy", despite a growing belief that such weights can be regulated in anti-depressants and vacations to Cabo or Maui. Each of us individually drags around our respective weights, and while what we carry is uniquely ours, it is by no means unique. Forgetting that we share the common bond of suffering is the most dangerous step towards apathy as well as cultural elitism. But today my focus is on the stuff we carry, not the effects of humping it around.

Tim O'Brien was a soldier and then an award-winning author. He wrote about his experiences as a soldier. His work of fiction "The Things They Carried" does a great job of putting a fine point on an often intangible thought process with regards to the Vietnam War. In the following excerpt, there is the burden on the reader of thinking about all that he says and all that he writes between the lines. Carry this around for a bit:

"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds....

What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.

As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men....

As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M's for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds....

As PFC's or Spec 4s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M-16 gas-operated assault ifle. The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its fulll 20-round magazine.... The riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines, usually in cloth bandoliers, adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum....

In addition to the three standard weapons -- the M-60, the M-16, and the M-79 -- they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.... They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.

They carried USO stationery and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco.... Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections.... They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery..... They carried the land itself -- Vietnam, the place, the soil -- a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces.... They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous.... And for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry."

Tim O'Brien carries the reader into his memories with this short story, and asks the reader to carry his burden with him for a few pages. Put down your Blackberries and your Mac's, push aside your mocha lattes and your Coldstone ice cream, and be quiet about your own complainings long enough to listen to someone else unload their burden for a bit.

We don't even have to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. We just need to carry his literal and metaphorical backpack around for a while.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Pre-Natal Agreement

For your consideration, I bring to you the "Pre-Natal Agreement"! This is my little creation and gift to the legal world. In short, it works like a pre-nup, but gives one parent complete control of child-rearing in the event of a divorce. No more arguing over visitation, over dental benefits, over who's going to pick up little Johnny up from soccer practice! This gem gives it all to one parent! How easy will your custody battles be now!! In fact, it even comes with a built in addendum that the non-custodial parent can choose to pay child support or sign away parental rights, no questions asked!

This is a culmination of years of me shaking my head at the evils that parents will do to their children post-divorce, but now it includes court involved evils. Recently that boy and his mother who ran away to get away from a court-appointed chemo treatment incited me to dream up the "Pre-Natal Agreement". Depending on which article you read after googling the boy and his story, you get various views on who has custody of the boy and his medical rights, and why custody is in question, and why there is a court-appointed chemo treatment in the first place. You also occasionally run across their religious beliefs (like them or not) that are against non-hollistic medicine in the first place.

The questions that this boy's case raised for me include:
1. who gets to decide the patient's rights in this and other cases and what are the guidelines?
2. what about his own rights to decide his quality of life and/medical treatments?
3. how far can the courts and the doctors go to force treatment upon patients?
4. will these treatments be directly related to the business of medicine? i.e. will there be a harder and perhaps court-backed push for more costly treatments?
5. when does patient care count as more important than patient treatment?
6. will personal beliefs towards medicine -- be them religous or cultural -- be subservient to the sickness itself? In other words, will the patient be little more than the vehicle to treat the illness, while the illness is the real interest?
7. how will the insurance agencies lobby and for what ends? Will this be one more area where we-the-people have little say in how we are treated and billed?
8. Did this all start from a divorce and shared custody rights? Some articles suggest that it did, others suggest that the state interfered on behalf of the boy because his parents did not believe nor wish to participate in "traditional modern medical practices".

The easiest way to avoid such convoluted situations is to stay married after procreation. But since we don't live in a society that encourages such unions, the next best thing may be to have ultimate rights over one's progeny.

Of course, this brings about several other basic issues that need to be understood:

1. children are an 18 year commitment at minimum. If you are not financially nor emotionally prepared to dedicate 18 years of your life to a life-form other than your own, then do not procreate or sign away parental rights if you do.
2. children are not playthings that are for your amusement in pride issues and control battles over custody. Grow up before you procreate, or agree to act like a grown up once you have.
3. understand that if you play by the rules of society, you just may scrape by under the radar. Draw unnecessary attention to yourself through any means of stupidity or irresponsibility, and you may find Social Services at your door, and then your parental rights could become a moot point anyway.
4. how you feel about someone the day you decide to procreate with them will be very different from the day you decide you're tired of their antics. Think beyond the moment to the worst possible scenerio and plan to deal with the worst, not the best.
5. use your head for something other than a hat rack. If you don't already have the answers you need to the questions you have, go get them from someone who does.
6. you are not half as important to everyone else as you think you are, but you are ten times as important to your child than you think you are.

I look at the situation we are in as a nation with regards to child-rearing and custody arguments and "a village raising our children" from social services to public education and I wonder how humanity survived long enough to get to this point. To all those people in power that are now making decisions to "safeguard our children" I ask you this: did your parents do such a horrible job with you that you now feel that we should grow up in a bubble until we're 18 and then register to vote to support the social programs you think are inalienable rights to our citizens and illegal immigrants?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

United we stood

I recently took a very casual poll and discovered that most people consider "nationalism" to be the same thing as patriotism: love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it. However, ask a history buff knowledgeable in the emergence of Nationalism, and you'll learn something a bit different.

"Nationalism proved to be the single most powerful European political ideology of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (pg. 744)". Yes, European political ideology. And nationalism is very simple, really. The idea is simply the "concept that a nation is composed of people who are joined together by the bonds of common language, customs, culture, and history, and who, because of those bonds, should share the same government [such as a democracy, a monarchy, or other governmental form]" (pg. 745). Ideally, any group can form its own nation, "but in reality nationhood came to be associated with groups that were large enough to support a viable economy, that had a history of significant cultural association, that possessed a cultural elite that could nourish and spread the national language, and that could conquer other peoples to establish and protect their own independence" (pg. 747)*.

Such relatively simply ideology helps really put a fine point on why there are so many conflicts and wars in this world, doesn't it? We want to be united and have the right to be united and protect ourselves from other groups. And by "we", I mean just about every single individual culture on the planet.

Now if you read my previous post, "Out of Africa", you already know that I posed a very dramatic pitch for peace by way of understanding and respecting our genetic similarities as a species. Genetic similarities do not define cultures, however, and the European Nationalists saw a problem in Europe that ended up redefining borders and bringing about nation states such as Italy and Germany, as well as tying peoples together in a way that had not ever occurred before.

You'd think we, the fledgeling U.S. and "Republic experiment", would have learned something. Apparently we did not.

Take another look at what nationalism means: "peoples joined by common language, customs, culture, and history...." Who in politics is trying to keep this country united at all? No one, that I can think of. Every single politician that comes to my mind is focused on segregating this country by focusing on various economical or cultural differences within our borders. Abortion activists' tend to define that entire argument based on a difference between the sexes, supported by the rhetoric of "a woman's right to do what she wants to do with her body". The entire political plank of illegal immigrants recognizes and thus divides culturally the Mexican/Latino culture from the "American" culture. Arguments over health care tend to alienate economic classes and to some degree also includes ageism by focusing on Medicaid and Medicare. The argument over taxes divides the working class, the upper class, and the tax exempt class.

In short, how does this country stay together at all? We are no longer joined by a common language (we're increasingly bi-lingual), we have no common culture or customs, and our history is used as a political tool to divide us instead of unite us.

With cultural globalization we are increasingly losing whatever vestiges of culture we had as we embrace individuality and increase our integration of other cultural norms into our own melting pot. This in and of itself would not be a bad thing if we actually had an "American" culture that united us. When this country was founded, it was in response to religious oppression and persecution. It was a break from the tyrannical rule of a monarchy. It was to separate from a government that failed to allow equal representation. It was also a chance to pursue personal wealth without strict adherence to a caste system, and a chance to encourage and participate in free trade.

We seem to have abandoned everything that once united us. With no commonality as a nation, of course we're at the whims of our president and congress. Of course we're turning towards socialism and communism and away from the republic that our forefathers established. And until we understand our history, we cannot begin to change our future.

*Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, Turner (2009) The Heritage of world civilizations, (vol. 2, 8th ed., pp. 744-747). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out of Africa

Anthroplogists believe that modern man comes from Africa. “...Geneticists found that characteristic DNA sequences called markers on the Y (male) chromosome in a huge sample of men in Asia and Oceania could be traced to forefathers who lived in Africa in the past 35,000 to 89,000 years. Two other groups studying Y chromosome markers have come to a similar conclusion. Together with a variety of studies showing that mitochondrial DNA is of recent African origins, anthropologists now have two strong lines of evidence in favor of the 'Out of Africa' model, which says that the ancestors of living humans swept out of Africa in the past 200,000 years and replaced all indigenous people they encountered.”*

This means that either the government should start passing “racially” preferred handouts to everyone, or quit handing them out at all. It also means that the NAACP needs to widen it's recipient base. Finally, it means that affirmative action really is discrimination. But most people with any sort of common sense already knew that.

But outside of poking fun at governmental policies that allow for any particular group to get any specific favor based on the “color of their skin”, there is another and deeper meaning to being “African American”... the anthropological belief that we're all one race. “In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic 'racial' groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within 'racial' groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.”**

With all the religious, political, sexist, demographical, “racial”, cultural and economic diversity on this planet, realizing that we are, essentially, no different from one human to the next, we can de-value the constant bickering and warring over inconsequential stuff – like whether or not the color of someone's skin reflects who they are as a person, or whether or not it reflects how capable they are to perform a task. It should also be broadened to consider such things as whether or not acts of terrorism is performed against truly different persons (it is not), or instead just different ideologies (it is). Perhaps human identity is not the way to peace, but perhaps if we focused on our genetic similarities and less on our cultural differences, PERHAPS we could begin to value human life enough to pursue avenues of peace that typically and historically have not worked, because of a shift in fundamental beliefs about what it is to be a human.

"Photograph is courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota"



Saturday, May 09, 2009

This year's ode to mothers

I have had very little time to dedicate to something worthwhile here in the last couple of weeks, and I finally get a few moments and find myself less than 24 hours away from Mother's Day.

For good or ill, we all have opinions about our mothers, and even without the Freudian approach to how our mothers have affected us, we can probably take a moment to tell a tale of humor or woe that closely connect our heartstrings where our umbilical cords once connected us. Too graphic? Fine, go visit FTD.com and send her some flowers and call it a day.

But before we cut off our reflections so quickly, have you ever stopped and really thought about how your mother's presence or absence in your life has structured you as a person? Think of all the stories of soldiers that die calling out for their moms. Think of all the people that fall into deep depression when their mothers die, regardless of how they connected with their moms while they were alive. Despite the traditional need for a sperm and an ovum to create life, children bond at a deeper level with the mom.

So tomorrow is Mother's Day; the one day a year we are federally told to appreciate our mothers, buy them Hallmark cards, and take them out to overcrowded restaurants to show them how much we love them. Maybe we'll buy them jewelry -- some family birthstone related thing that we can get at Walmart -- maybe we'll buy them chocolates. Maybe we'll remember them with a phone call, a visit to the nursing home, or a visit to the grave. Maybe we'll go out of our way to ignore them altogether.

However you do, or do not, remember your mother tomorrow, remember that the one person who is acutely aware of what "day" tomorrow is... is your mom. The only day that she will be more aware of her motherhood is on your birthday, and that day is set aside for you.

Also remember that she could've aborted you, and without any social accountability after 1973.

Friday, May 01, 2009

don't you forget about me

The 80's was a decade of great songs. Sure, better music has come out of other eras, but arguing "what musical era or genre is best" is like arguing any other opinionated topic -- no one is going to ultimately win.

It reminds me of the nonobjectivist approach to ethics, which states that there are no moral truths, but instead morality is simply a reflection of opinion and societal norms. For example, say you like Mozart and I like The Kinks. Instead of being able to sit down and rationally and calmly discuss the talents of either, with the intention of deciding one to be better than another, we will ultimately become inflamed and start spewing rhetoric and name calling. A.J. Ayer says that this will happen in any conversation where there is disagreement, and that ethics is therefore nothing that can be argued about as it is all opinion. "Lying is wrong" is as nonsensical to him as "Elvis is alive" or "Bread is tasty" because they're all opinions and cannot be proven as universal fact.

You know, when researching the Na of Southern China, or reading about the Ik of Central Africa, or even just considering dissenting opinions regarding abortion and same-sex marriages in our own country, it's easy to give a lot of credit to the idea that there is no moral truth and we're all arguing our opinions and feelings.

How dare you tell me that I have to agree with you because you're right and I'm wrong!! And do those that believe in abortion have any more right to say that to those that believe abortion is wrong? Do monogamous heterosexuals have the right to force their notions of morality onto sexual "deviants"? If I tell you that you are wrong for thinking that the sky is blue because in reality it is not blue but is merely reflecting blue as all other colors are being absorbed... do I have the right to force you to agree with me?

Ah, morality. How difficult it is to explain you, how impossible it is to contain you.

So maybe there are no universal truths. I mean, even "murder is wrong" is heavily debated by those that think that motive plays no part in murder, therefore even "killing" is wrong. Jainists would be among them; to them, I'm a murderer because I stepped on a cockroach and killed it. I meant to, as well, so maybe I am guilty -- universally speaking. I mean, either taking life is wrong or it is not, right?

Do I have the divine right to define what "life" is? Do I have the moral responsibility to set boundaries? Is making motive an acceptable cause and therefore exception simply making morality more comfortably fit? Just because I did not take human life, I did take life... a cockroach may not be a desirable lifeform to many of us, but we would all agree that it is indeed alive.

Does it become abominable for me to kill something because it's cute -- like a kitten? Where is the line drawn? Who gets to decide? If I accidentally kill it, because it runs out in the street and I run over it with my car, am I absolved of all moral responsibility? Aren't I surely a monster if I hack it up with an axe, however?

So if there are universal truths, then some of us must uncomfortably admit that we've done some universally morally reprehensible things, even if they weren't done to humans.

I remember a mouse I once killed in my house. I was not particularly kind to it, although it was no cold-blooded killing, but instead a rage response because I found the mouse in my cereal box that I retrieved from the cabinet to pour myself a bowl. But the circumstances notwithstanding, I took that mouse's life. The fact is, that mouse died at my hands.

It seems like something of a nicety that we only include humans in our societal ethical norms. How very Kantian of us. How ignoble. Do I have another solution? Are you kidding? I'm an amateur at this stuff.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guarantees and opportunities

John Rawls was a contemporary philosopher that put his own spin on the social contract theory -- that of the "veil of ignorance". In short, his idea was that if we were all disembodied spirits in space and not yet humans on earth, would we choose to live in a society that put restrictions on women or minorities, or inhibited peoples by class? He poses that we would not support such ideas, as we could very well end up with the short end of that individual freedom stick once we were assigned an earthly body. He believed that we would all sit down and script a social contract with equality for all.

But he mentioned class in his illustration. Does he mean that the wealth should all be distributed equally, or simply give the opportunity equally to everyone to pursue wealth? The differece is fairly profound, I argue.

If he meant to support equal distribution of wealth, then one could argue that a successful social contract means little more than setting up a socialist or communist government, designed primarily to control the wealth of the people and distribute it evenly. If he meant to support the idea that every person has the same rights to pursue individual wealth, then arguing for a free market society and capitalism is the way to go.

But even if we take political application out of the equation and remove all labels, then let's just look at the primary difference between "equal wealth" vs. "equal opportunity":

To simplify this idea in terms of survival, let's pretend that there are only 10 of us on earth, and we live together in our own village. Let's say I go out and gather 2 pounds of berries, another guy hunts down 1 rabbit, and our village has some chickens that laid 5 eggs today.

With equal wealth, if just two of us gathered or hunted any food, it doesn't matter, for we all will get some of the loot. That means that the village divides the 2 pounds of berries, 1 rabbit, and 5 eggs between us. We each get 3.2 oz of berries, 1/10 of the rabbit, and half an egg a piece. Without even arguing over who gets the pelt or how it's equally shared, what about the different body types? Should age or health matter in the distribution of the food? If there's a small child that doesn't eat that much or a large warrior that requires more than that to keep his strength, or a sick person that needs additional nutrition... what do we do? Our social contract insists we share it all equally. While members of the village may decide to share above and beyond their own wealth, they are not required to, so there is no guarantees in the social contract for it. And what about the people that actually did all the work? Do they deserve no reward for carrying the whole of the village on their back? And what about those that did nothing? Should they be rewarded for their laziness? These are but some of the many difficult questions that arise from the idea of equal wealth.

Equal opportunity, on the other hand, would allow for every member of the village to go out and hunt or gather, regardless of sex, age, color of skin, etc, and would allow them to keep their rewards. The result is that while luck and skill would play a part in daily fluctuations of bounty, there would be no limit to the possibility that a member of the community had to gain wealth, and thus it is often argued that the village would be inspired to work hard to pursue their own wealth. In this system there is no guaranteed foodstuffs to be distributed at the end of the day, but it is argued that people would be generous with their neighbors when their neighbors tried hard and fell short, as they would want such generosity to be returned to them in tough times.

While equal wealth is a more Kantian approach to a social contract -- by this I mean the village would be doing good because it is their duty to do so -- it also does not encourage anyone to go out and try harder than any other, because even not hunting and gathering at all will still result in being given bounty. It could be argued that nothing besides hunger would ever drive any member out to hunt and gather. Such base needs would not warrant a generous spirit when doling out equal portions to any one else, when instead they would wish only to fill their own bellies. Perhaps such starvation could drive a member of the community to steal from the others by eating out in the field and not bringing back the whole bounty to the others. Perhaps they would begin to wish members of the community to die or be killed off to lessen the burden.

In the equal opportunity, a person could become discouraged that others go out and successfully bring home more bounty than another, but an encouraged person could desire to try harder, learn better methods, improve efficiency. Perhaps a person who has no luck could desire to quit trying, or harbor grudges against the successful members of the village, wishing to kill the successful members off and steal their wealth. It is here where the social contract becomes so important, as a social contract -- as per Hobbes's definition -- exists to unite warring persons in that they agree to live under a set of rules because the rules are better than the lawlessness and anarchy that would otherwise exist.

Is one system better than another? Yes, in my opinion. But it's going to take more than just my opinion to work towards any sort of social contract that transcends the political strife we bathe in in this country. It's far easier to talk about how things should be than do anything to create a better community; and if you don't do anything at all, but promise to do everything, you can keep getting re-elected on the grounds that you still have work to do. HA!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Have you thought about this lately?

"Abandoning an absolute ethical moral standard leads irresistibly to the absence of ethics and morality. Each person determines his own ethical/moral code. That's anarchy. Humans become their own gods and decide, each in his own way, what is good and what is evil. Evil becomes good -- good becomes evil. Upside down morality! Good is ridiculed!! Evil is dignified!" - Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate

Can you say he's wrong? For those of you that just blurted out "yes", think about all the times that "good Samaritans" are punished for doing good works. Some are sued because they are not doctors or EMT's and pulled an accident victim from a burning car but causing bodily damage by not using accepted emergency procedures. You've heard of these horror stories, don't make me look them up; my time is valuable and if you're that big of a curmudgeon, then I will be wasting my efforts proving my points to you.

So we as a country struggle with cultural relativism (the idea that no culture is more "right" or "wrong" than another, and that all aspects of that culture -- including its ethics and morality -- are no more right or wrong than any other, and that furthermore no one has the right to judge another culture. Basically, it says that "what's right for me is right for me, and what's right for you is right for you".

Take the Ik tribe of Central Africa. They "acknowledge no moral or social obligation to anyone or anything. Their standard of value is the self; their rule of life, to do whatever they wish. At age 3, children are put out of their parents' huts and thereafter sleep in the open, rain or shine. To survive, they gather in bands and form not friendships but temporary alliances, which are betrayed whenever convenience dictates... children learn to cry tears of malice, anger, or hate, butnever of sorrow.... The Ik's sexual expression typically is adulterous and is driven less by passion than by the desire to profit at someone else's expense. A neighbor's suffering evokes not pity or kindness but malicious glee. (observations by anthropologist Colin Turnbull, from his field study in the mid-1960's)*".

To tie this all together, according to cultural relativism, the Ik have the right to continue to behave as they do, treating others as they do, and no one else has the right to tell them that they are in the moral wrong to do so. Halverson would say that this is anarchy and reprehensible, and he might even liken this sort of dignifying of "evil" to issues we see arise in our own country, as so many criminals get off on some technicality or another, thus invalidating the point that they committed a crime and owe reparations to society.

The Ik live -- as described by Turnbull -- without any sort of moral conditions tying them to one another nor any other group. They are the basest culture I've ever heard of, where pleasure comes solely from enjoying the pain experienced by another. "They live without love, and they die alone*".

I argue that this is the inevitable end of people who cannot or will not "draw lines in the sand" for what is right and what is wrong. I argue that even if a 5 year old steals something, and that it is successfully argued that "she didn't know any better", that the crime of stealing remains unchanged, and that reparations to society are still appropriate.

Here's where I become unpopular in my thinking, but bear with me dear reader! It is only here that the details of the case should be considered. Only in judgement, not in deciding whether or not there was a crime committed. If something is stolen, it remains stolen regardless if a toddler took it, a seasoned criminal, or a forest animal. Even if it is successfully argued that Big Foot himself stole, the argument is not whether or not something was taken, but WHO took it.

Before we get way off track, let's get back to the thieving toddler. Should the toddler have her hand chopped off as might happen in some cultures as penance for stealing? No, that would be overkill. Should she be forced to serve time in prison? Nah. Should she be forced to return the item she stole? Sure, that's appropriate. I'd even go so far to say that she could spend an hour of her life in service to the person from whom she stole.

I personally that it is admirable to punish according to crimes. That upholds a standard and a consistency in society that would give the members of the society something they can count on, and a moral base by which they can decide their actions. This crazy society we have, where pleas of insanity often are used as some form of excuse, where deals are made to catch bigger fish or simply plea bargain to a lesser sentence, where repeat offenders do not necessarily receive stricter sentencing with each offense... this to me is anarchy. This is a lack of moral structure and substance. While everyone is fighting for individual rights, the "greater good" is completely forgotten or shoved aside. Cultural relativism is winning, and yet the result is that we have no culture.

For according to its own definition, we have no right to judge or be judged by another culture. So who wins? No one. It has no choice but to exist as "every man for himself". Slowly we are slipping into looser and looser cultural morality. I dread the days when I'm old enough to sit on the front porch and talk about the "good ole days". I fear that I've alredy seen the best this country has to offer its citizens, if things continue to progress as they have been.

If you disagree with me, I'd like to hear a detailed account as to why. I could use some cheering up.

*source: Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, 7th ed. pg. 52-53

Friday, March 27, 2009

who's Margo Crawford?

Many of you have read my blog under my pseudonym for some time. Most of you know my real name by now, either cuz we grew up together or because we've gotten to know each other a bit outside this blog.

So who's Margo Crawford?

I am. And I'm ready to tackle Shakespeare's eternal question "Would a rose smell as sweet by any other name?" by simply going by my own given name. And for those of you who no longer find the metaphor of an empty ink well of any significance, or were merely curious as to what "the face of Margo...er, Catherine" looks like, I've even updated my photo to an actual picture of me.

What does this mean for the blog? Not much. I'll still be me as predictably as I always am. What does this mean for humanity? I dunno... these changes may usher in the end of the world.

At any rate, welcome to the next phase in my own evolution.

Friday, March 20, 2009

You're yes then you're no....

If you knew that Proposition 22 and Proposition 8 may not have ever been necessary propositions, would it change your mind about them?

In short, these two propositions were brought before the people of California to vote on whether or not marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman or broadened to include same-sex unions.

It turns out that the California Family Code, sections 297 and 297.5 allow for same-sex unions to exist:

"Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses."

These registered domestic partnerships are equal to marriages, legally, and are protected from discrimination and partners in such a union are legally considered spouses.

If there already exists a legal union of same-sex partners, then why is same-sex marriage even an issue? Is it because of the definition of the word marriage? If so, then the people of California have twice said that they -- as a majority -- want a marriage to be exclusively between a man and a woman. Does the California Supreme court have a right to overthrow their passing of Prop 22 and later Prop 8? Is the court imposing legislating from the bench or upholding the law?

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hot Topic: abortion and rhetoric

"Someone against abortion might define 'abortion as 'the murder of an
innocent still-born person'. This definition carries a negative connotation,
as the term 'murder' suggests that abortion is wrongful killing, and it also
assumes that the aborted fetus is already a person. Such a definition is
surely not appropriate in a rational debate on the moral legitimacy of
abortion, even though it might be useful as a rhetorical tool"
(Joe Lau
Department of Philosophy, The University of Hong Kong, August 2003).

Someone might also describe pregnancy as having a parasite growing inside the uterus.

But let's look at "murder" and "abortion" beyond their trigger words. "Murder", according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, is "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought". Well, I'm not sure how many people get an abortion out of malice for their unborn child. Most probably do it out of fear: fear they don't have the money nor the education to raise the child, fear that the father of the child will beat them, fear of their parents, fear of the unknown, etc.

And let's look at the rest of the definition: "the crime of unlawfully killing..." well, thanks to Roe vs. Wade, it's not unlawful to have an abortion, therefore there is no crime. So, strictly speaking, abortion is not murder. Ok, moving on.

According to Lau's definition, the abortion is the murder of an innocent still-born person. Answers.com says that the definition of "stillborn" is "dead at birth". Well how, Mr. Lau, can you kill something already dead? (I'll let it slide that it also has to be born and dead to be considered stillborn.)

Mr. Lau's definition doesn't work.

But let's go on. He assumes that those against abortion consider the fetus a person. Now, I am not going to argue the philosophy, psychology, biology, or morality of whether or not a fetus is a person. I'm going to argue that there is nothing to kill if the fetus isn't a person, and you can't even kill it if it's dead, as in the aforementioned definition, so why are we discussing abortion in Mr. Lau's terms?

Let me ask you this: if we can legally kill something that doesn't exist anyway (not my definition), we morally wrap our minds around genocide (in this case, infanticide). Why can't we, therefore, euthanize our elderly like we do our old dogs and cats? Why can't we "put them out of their misery" of old age, cancer, dementia, brittle bones, etc. Come on, we kill our kids in the womb! What's the difference between deciding the first breaths of infants and the last breaths of the elderly? The difference is, I offer for your consideration, that fetuses have no eyes, no smiles, no names, no faces, no emotional to pull at heartstrings. But are they any less alive?

Is a plant a viable organism while it is still a seed or a seedling and still growing? Is it "alive" before it shoots out of the ground and grows leaves? Is it "born" only after it has sprouted roots?

No, I'm not going to go off on the tangent of the evils of eating plants, because "plants have feelings too". I honestly don't care if you eat cows or elephant ears. (For those that don't know, an elephant ear, in this context, is a large green leafed plant, not the actual ear of an elephant).

But I am going to say that Joe Lau, by his own definition, uses rhetoric to attempt to argue that those who oppose abortion are wrong to do so. I say it's wrong to grow peas in a 5th grade science class because they are only going to be discarded after the experiment and not planted into soil to continue to grow and thrive and become mature plants!! Plant Killers!!!!

Now go hug your grandmother.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Little Mystery in Big China

I have stated on more than one occasion that education can solve any issue. Imagine my smug little self after reading about the matrilineal society of the Na.

Most people have never heard of the Na tribal people, from the Yongning hills of the Yunan province in southern China. Clifford Geertz wrote an article (“Life without Fathers or Husbands”, copyright 2001 NYREV, Inc.) reviewing the work of Chinese Anthropologist, Cia Hua, describing the society of the Na.

"[Among the Na]... there is no marriage, in fact or word. Mothers exist, as do children, but there are no dads. Sexual intercourse takes place between casual, opportunistic lovers, who develop no broader, more enduring relations to one another.... Almost everyone of either sex has multiple partners, serially or simultaneously.... There are no nuclear families, no in-laws, no stepchildren. Brothers and sisters, usually several of each, reside together, along with perhaps a half-dozen of their nearer maternal relatives, from birth to death under one roof -- making a living, keeping a household, and raising the sisters' children."

Now before you, dear reader, consider rushing off to live in the Yongning hills of China, please understand that over the span of several dynasties, China has addressed this issue in several ways, from decreeing that the Na "must marry in the standard way" to passing a regulation "designed to encourage nuclear family formation by distributing land to men who would set up and maintain such a family" to "pronouncing it shameful not to know who one's genitor is, and imposing marriage by simple decree on any villager involved in a conspicuous visit relationship" to finally passing laws stating that "1. everyone under fifty in a relationship... must officially marry...; 2. every woman who has children must publically state who their genitor is, cart him off to headquarters, and marry him; 3. those who divorce without official sanction will have their annual grain ration suspended; 4. any child born out of wedlock will also not get a ration and must be supported by his genitor until age 18; and 5. visiting, furtive or conspicuous, was forbidden".

All these efforts failed, largely. It wasn't until 1992 that any real change in the Na culture occurred. The means that succeeded? Education.

"The expansion of the state school system, where 'all the textbooks are impregnated with [more universal] ideas and values', is leading to rapid and thorough [cultural change in] the Na:
When students graduate from middle school, they must complete a form that includes a column requesting information on their civil status. Unable to fill in the blank asking for the name of their father, they suddenly become aware they do not have a father, while their classmates from other ethnic backgrounds do..... The message... is clear.... There is only one culture that is legitimate, and that [is not the Na].

"In China, as elsewhere, it is not licentiousness that powers most fear. Nor even immorality. It is difference."

Did you notice that the education that is "fixing" the Na culture, is the state school system? Now, if you're a member of the Na society, you are probably enraged at what your kids are being taught as your people are entering into a state of cultural upheaval.

Can't the same thing be said of other cultures nearer to home? What is it, exactly, that "the state" is teaching? Is it the education that we want for our kids? Are we, like the Na, being conditioned to accept a particular knowledge that is "in line" with the government? And who's government? Can it be accurately defined by party lines, socio-economic lines, cultural lines? Sure, education can solve all problems, but "education" is a bit subjective. It's a bit like history, you know; the winning side gets to write the books.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Throw me something, Mister!

I am not Catholic. In fact, my personal experiences with Catholicism can be traced to a single wedding that I attended back in 1984. I am, however, a Louisianian. So tomorrow the devout Catholics can celebrate Ash Wednesday, but today is for me and my ilk. Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

Mardi Gras is steeped in Catholic beliefs, but leave it to the city of N'Awlins (that's "New Orleans" for those needing translation) to claim the twelve days leading up to Fat Tuesday -- as well as the day itself -- and turn it into one big philanthropic party. Carnival and Mardi Gras is when the people of New Orleans and South Louisiana throw themselves a party, paid for by the people, and gifts are showered onto the crowds.

To be fair, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, and N'Awlins isn't the only place that throws a good party. But, I'm not from the rest of the world, so you get my slant. And today, my slant is a short list of sites:

New Orleans Mardi Gras explained Go learn something, Mister!
Mardi Gras 2009 with live video Go watch a parade, Mister!
History of New Orleans Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Past and Present

Funny, how I'll rant about Christmas and vent about Valentine's Day, then laud Mardi Gras. No, I"m not nuts... although I do predict an eccentric old age. Here's the thing about this seeming hypocrisy: I was raised to understand that Mardi Gras was, yes, a time for parades and asking for trinkets ("Throw me something, Mister!"). But I understood that the money behind Mardi Gras came from people's pocket linings, not a government agency or a hand-out. This was the hard-working taxpayer taking their own money and throwing their community a party, complete with gifts to the parade attenders. If ever there was a spirit of community involvement, it was Mardi Gras. People set aside money, they built floats together, they made costumes, they threw a parade, and then they had a ball -- literally. The whole point is to enjoy life and celebrate abundance. I've always contented that point of view goes a long way to defining such intangible ideas as "abundance". If you have all you need, and are content with that, then life itself is abundant. If you have a huge case of materialism and are so deep in debt that you actually quit dreaming of your next big purchase, then you will never have enough, no matter how much you have.

For me, Thanksgiving is for being thankful and giving thanks. It's a time of intimacy, looking inward to find peace in having what you need, and appreciating what and who you have in your life. Mardi Gras, however, is about celebrating life. It's about dancing in the streets because you have your humor, your zest for life, and you want to share yourself with your community. It's about throwing everyone a party, just because you can. I love that even in financial times of hardship, the members of the New Orleans Krewes find a way to keep the parties alive, year after year. I love that the area-wide celebration lines the streets and anyone can attend, be them a local or a tourist. Sure, my reflection on Mardi Gras may be a bit utopian, but that's my point of view, and sometimes we all need a reason to celebrate life.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Educate me!!

Have you heard that there are folks out there busily rethinking our education system?

How about a return to the one room schoolhouse?

Here's a fun link I found regarding an experiment with just such a setting:

And another about project-based education in Hawaii:

Project-based education, btw, is exactly what it sounds like. Education through working on projects. Hawaii has a few charter schools that are outdoor schoolhouses. They are also bi-lingual, speaking English and Hawaiian. The idea is not only to preserve the Hawaiian culture, but also to encourage kids to embrace their heritage and understand how they can help protect their environment. That it also gives them some real-world experience is just gravy. Personally, I can get behind a system that puts kids to work on how to apply algebra to rebuild a storm-ravaged building, or uses diving to study science and biology and the reefs (I read a written article about such a school, but the link takes you to one that deals with other cool projects related to energy).

Would't it be great if learning and practical application could be used to better prepare graduates at every level for the rest of their life, or the next level of education?

I remember that my dad (a high school teacher for 27 years) was often frustrated when he was told he had to pass a student onto the next grade because they were too old to remain where they were. I remember the year he got a half-dozen new students as freshmen that had moved into high school only because they were turning 15 and could not stay in the 8th grade anymore. They did not know how to read or write, they had no incentive to learn, and when he asked them what they wanted from high school, one replied with "I want to turn 16 so I can get my own welfare check".

Yes, I realize this group of students is not the majority, however, with our current system, what grade you are in correlates with age more than it does ability, and often a child who is functioning well above their "grade" level is not encouraged to challenge themselves and jump ahead, while a child that is lagging behind can be dragged along. It isn't ideal for either situation.

I remember "back in the day" when Associates Degrees covered a more "general education" and the Bachelors was more specialized, with increasing specialization as one earned higher degrees. I feel a bit as though Bachelors degrees have lost some of their...punch... in the workplace, and an Associate's degree doesn't do much for anyone anymore. I fear that this is because there is a desire to have the titles that come with the terminal degrees more than it is a reflection of learning. In a race to stay competitive, have we really increased our learning to match our pedigrees? It is something I don't have an answer to yet.

This has been more food for thought than anything else, but I will leave my readers with some rhetorical questions to think about. Isn't our education supposed to prepare us for the workplace? Why does the workplace find our education inadequate or lacking? Shouldn't the gap between education and application be a narrow one?

Friday, February 13, 2009

my boring valentine

It's the day before Valentine's, and true to form, I'm planning on all the things I'll be doing tomorrow: housework, playing with my son, going to the park, avoiding restaurants, wearing something decidedly NOT red.

For my loyal readers, you know that I loathe this holiday.

For those who have not been previously privy to my Valentine's rants, let me sum it up like this:

There are 365 days in a year. Why is it that on this one particular day, men are socially required to go out and spend a bunch of money buying baubles and trinkets to "prove" their love, to satisfy some romantic need to feel adored? What about the other 364 days a year? Shouldn't he be showing his love every day, and not storing it up, like a tax refund check, for February 14th?

Really, I think that holidays like this one exist for government workers to have a day off and to stimulate the economy. And we can follow up this big holiday for jewelry stores with the furniture store's holiday: President's Day! (and all the related sales). Next is breweries and St. Patrick's Day, then Childrens' retailers and Easter.

Now, I say all this tongue in cheek, as I continue to learn about the human sciences, and am forming new opinions all the time. But those revelations are for later. As Jack Nicholson one yelled to Tom Cruise, "You can't handle the truth!"

Speaking of Gitmo, ponder for a moment how future generations are going to receive movies like A Few Good Men and stories from the latter half of the 20th century, when Gitmo was such a formidable presence. I suspect it's a lot like hearing about the Great Depression for our generation. We kinda get it... well, a bit... I mean, look at the current state of the economy... gas last year was $5 a gallon in some parts... that's rough!... ok, we don't get it at all.

Time keeps on tickin', tickin'...
into the future....

(and don't worry fellas, you still have a few hours to get to Jared).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My No. 1 New Pet Peeve

It takes a lot to top my list of pet peeves, especially to jump from not even on my radar all the way to #1.

Recently I met a woman. During our correspondence, I noticed that she writes in sentence fragments. She has clauses that don't identify anything. She refuses to capitalize proper names, misuses pronunciation, and is a terrible speller. She forgets identifying pronouns and leaves off modifiers. At least she doesn't use leet-speak. Now, all of these errors are forgivable -- certainly I'm guilty of every single one of them at some time or another. However, their frequency is annoying. Even this is forgivable, largely.

What is not forgivable is that this woman -- this questionably literate woman -- is an ENGLISH TEACHER!!

The next generation needs help. And how did we put someone in a position to teach them, that can't even properly use her own subject matter? HOW? Are our standards so low? Have we lowered our qualifications for our teachers? No Child Left Behind?!!!! HA! How about No Teacher Left Behind! (That might begin to take care of the children issue) I am so angry over the thought of illiterate teachers teaching English (of all things!), that I cannot continue this blog in a logical or sequential manner.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

horror and science

Science fiction is attributed to pushing science and technology into the future. Mostly because Welles or Vonnegut wrote about some completely cool gadget, and somewhere some brilliant-but-geeky mind decided to try and invent it. Star Trek is responsible for a whole slew of scientific advancements and/or experiments, like hand-held computers and such (come on, who doesn't want a tri-corder?) Star Wars can contribute a few things to science as well, even though the light saber hasn't been perfected -- not even as a child's toy.

So what about a Stephen King contribution? How about remote locks for cars! I postulate that somewhere, some guy was watching Christine and said "hey, I wish my car doors would lock themselves!" and Ding!! He had to go about making it happen. Now remote entry on autos is as common as Microsoft bundled with new computers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

day of change

Back in November, the U.S. collectively voted for a change. Today we inaugurate a new President -- one that ran a platform promising change. Nothing but hindsight will enlighten whether or not we receive the change we desire.

This historic inauguration not only places the first African-American in the role of President, but I hope it also opens the door for women in upcoming elections. It is certainly just a matter of time, but perhaps now time becomes inconsequential in the equation.

Mr. Obama has been likened to a celebrity. Perhaps that is what this country needs right now. President Bush was not followed as a celebrity, and our country has many inhabitants that could not even recognize his photo, nor the name nor photo of Vice-President Cheney. Perhaps we need a figure that the paparazzi cannot wait to follow, that the magazines salivate over the opportunity to write about as he and his family appeal to fashion and entertainment. Maybe this man's charisma and charming good looks can bring about a social consciousness and political awareness in this country. Maybe with a face in office that people are excited about seeing, maybe he can unite us in a way we have not been united since JFK.

And for the first time in my life, I understand a very little bit about how crazy the country could be about John F. Kennedy. With his charming good looks and winning smile, with a beatiful and graceful woman by his side, the country paid attention to what he did and therefore, what was going on around him. I was not there, but I've heard about the "I was _____ when JFK was shot" stories. Everyone remembers that moment, just as I presume that this country will remember where they were on January 20, 2009.

Regardless of how votes were cast back in November, this day we inaugurate the one man that won the election. There is no point in mourning the loss of some other outcome. This is where we are in history, and it is from this moment that we will move forward. I am hopeful that when we look back on this administration we do indeed see positive change in not only foreign policy and economic policy and such, but in ourselves as a united people.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Owls and Songbirds

"There are many peaceful and monogamous birds in the Animal Kingdom who provide a model for loving human relationships. Mourning doves, sparrows, and finches all have their tender and caring courting rituals and share jointly in the nurturing and protecting of their young.

There are, however, a few bad birds. And the baddest of the bird world Bad Boys is the rare male great tit (Parus Calioptrus). Ornithologists are usually excited when the see a pair of great tits in the wild, as you can well imagine.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever had to suffer through an episode of Benny Hill that the great tits make their home in England. While there are also blue tits and mouse tits it is the great tits who are notorious for being among the very few songbirds that actually murder other songbirds. Male great tits have actually gotten so aggressive that they will steal food from humans, using their sharp beaks to open freshly delivered bottles of milk on people's doorsteps.

You'd think great tits would have their own milk, but of course, they don't.

This tendency for great tits to go wrong (thus becoming killer tits) is avenged only when they themselves become victims of larger birds of prey like hawks or owls. There is almost no sight in nature as ugly as a battle to the death between a pair of big hooters and some killer tits."

-Cathryn Michon, The Grrl Genius Guide to Sex (with Other People)
Pages 36-37, First Edition, copyright 2004

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

You can't always get what you want....

.... but sometimes you get what you need.

I've ranted and rampaged for years about hand-outs versus hand-ups. I've railed against something for nothing and lauded the importance of pulling one's self up by one's own bootstraps.

It is within my own personal experiences that I could draw enough analogies, anecdotes, and tales of woe and hardship to bore the reader right off of this page. Suffice it to say, I did not form my opinion on the words of my parents.

For the last few years I've pondered my greater purpose, sometimes eloquently, sometimes not. And recently I got quieter and quieter as the voice I most heard was my own. The world sat by and patiently let me puzzle out my own Rubik's cube.

When I was done, I pulled up my bootstraps.

This year is going to be the beginning of a journey for me that will not end until I walk across a stage to accept my Bachelor's degree and then following with my Master's. I mention this because some of you have been loyal readers since I first started this blog, and have known me to spend time procrastinating, in introspection, and in self discovery. So many times I found myself lacking, simply because I refused to live up to my potential.

It was never anyone else's job to drag me up to that potential, but I have some good friends that have contributed in their own way at propping me up while I struggled to stand on my own. Thank you, good friends.

For several months I've been looking into schools, searching for the right one, the right program. I have completed searching, and am enrolled and already back at it. So now, while I'm still excited and passionate, I announce my plans, in part so those that have always supported me know where we're headed next.

The blog will continue as always, but if things show up slower than they used to, at least my avid readers will understand why.

I have indeed embarked on exactly what I need, and I'm fortunate in that it's also exactly what I want. Sometimes you get both.