Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Don't Bother Me With Facts, My Mind is Made Up

It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument.
-- William G. McAdoo

This quote is never more true than when disagreeing with someone who bases their opinion on their particular interpretations of what they believe is an "inerrant" Bible, rather than on reason.

Laura Mallory, a mother from Gwinnett County, Georgia spent the better part of 2006 attempting to have the popular Harry Potter book series removed from school libraries. She asserts that the books
are "evil" propaganda aimed at indoctrinating youngsters into witchcraft. Using this yardstick, many other books in the school library would also have to go: The Wizard of Oz, Macbeth, Cinderella, etc etc.

Never mind that she's never read any of the books in order to develop an informed opinion of them, and never mind that the books are clearly labeled as fantasy fiction. And never mind that if she actually read the books, she'd discover many themes that are congruent with core Christian beliefs: good fighting evil, loyalty, friendship, compassion, and so on.

Don't bother her with facts; her mind is made up.
Her opinion of witchcraft is based on her interpretation of Bible verses that state that witchcraft is an "abomination". And one cannot use reason with a person who has the "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" mindset. Facts are irrelevant to a person with blind faith.

For the sake of argument, let's suppose that her assertions that the Potter books were actually encouraging people to practice witchcraft or Wicca. We'll even ignore the fact that fantasy ideas of witchcraft and the Pagan practice of Wicca are two very different things.

First of all, what's wrong with promoting Wicca? It is a legitimate faith that is even recognized by the US Armed Forces, which has Wiccan chaplains for Pagan soldiers and sailors.

I'm also sure that the library that she is trying to remove the Potter books from has dozens of books reflecting and/or promoting Christian beliefs. Also having books that promote Wicca or other Pagan beliefs is perfectly proper in a country that espouses freedom of religion.

Let's also not forget that neither fantasy witchcraft/wizardry nor Wicca have to do with "Satanism", as one must have a belief in the Christian ideas of heaven and hell to believe that a being such as Satan even exists.

Mallory is, of course, entitled to her opinions and her worldview for herself and to make decisions about the reading habits of her minor children. But no more than that. She has absolutely no business trying to decide what other people's children may read or what ideas they are exposed to.

Ultimately, however, her fruitless campaign will only serve to get more people to read the Harry Potter books, than discourage them. There's nothing better for book sales than attempts to censor them because most Americans believe in freedom, not censorship.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think

George Lakoff

Date: 2002-05-01 — Book

product page


Review of Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think

George Lakoff takes a fascinating look at the reasons why the average liberal does not understand how the average conservative thinks, and vice versa. He shows that political opinions for both liberals and conservatives are based, most of all, on morality, and that while both persuasions pick from the same pool of moral metaphors, that each side gives different priorities to different aspects of morality. Furthermore, the basis for political thinking on both sides is based on a "Nation as Family" metaphor, which differs because each group favors a different ideal family structure, each emphasizing different facets of morality.

Lakoff prefaces his book by stating that both liberalism and conservatism are radial categories; that is, that both have a central model, each with variations on the central model, with the most typical variations being pure/ideological conservatism and liberalism, along with the more pragmatic varieties. For the purposes of the book, he concentrates on the central models, acknowledging that most individuals will not fit completely into one camp or the other.

Conservative political thought is based on a "Strict Father" family model. This is an absolutist, Calvinistic, black and white, moral view of the family (and by extension, politics). In order of importance, the strict father model emphasizes these moral metaphors

  • Morality as Strength: This is the strict father's central notion of self-discipline, both within the family and extended to morality in general.
  • Moral Authority: This is based on parental authority as it is extended to authority in general in the wider society
  • Moral Order: This define what are "natural", hence, legitimate types of authority
  • Moral Boundaries: What are the "right" and "wrong" paths of moral action, strongly discouraging "deviant" behavior.
  • Moral Essence: This details what makes up "character"
  • Moral Wholeness: This conceptualizes the importance of unity, stability, and homogeneity morality
  • Moral Purity: This shows how to distinguish immorality from the morality of this family model.
  • Moral Health: This outlines the effects of immorality as defined in this system
  • Moral Self-Interest: This links self-discipline and self-reliance in the family model
  • Morality as Nurturance: Links nurturance within the family to helping others in general
Liberal political thought, on the other hand, is based on a "Nurturant Parent" model of the family. This model is more flexible, seeing shades of grey, rather than viewing life in a yes/no, black and white fashion. The "Golden Rule" is an apt summary of this family model. The Nurturant Parent worldview emphasizes these moral metaphors:
  • Morality as Nurturance: Children who are adequately cared for will grow up to care for others, both personally and toward society in general
  • Morality as Empathy: This is the idea behind the Golden Rule.
  • Morality as Self-Nurturance: To give to others, one must take care of one's own needs; as one cannot give out of an empty vessel
  • Morality as the Nurturance of Social Ties: This is essential for nurturance within the larger community
  • Morality as Self-Development: This involves the tools which enable a person to attend to the principles above
  • Morality as Happiness: This is an anti-ascetic morality which increases a person's capacity for empathy
  • Morality as Fair Distribution: This involves equality of distribution, equality of opportunity, playing by the rules, and rights-based fairness.
  • Moral Growth: This involves evolving in the direction of moral nurturance
  • Moral Strength: Through the principles of Moral Nurturance, one can face evils, both external and internal
  • Retribution and Restitution: This involves protection, with retribution for those who harm children and others who are weaker, and restitution for those who make other kinds of mistakes.
  • Moral Boundaries: Similar to the strict father model, but with an emphasis different forms of transgression, specifically avoiding anti-nurturant behavior that can harm others
  • Moral Authority: This is not the ability to set and enforce rules, but is based on earned trust.
After detailed chapters explaining the above in how it relates to the two models of family life, Lakoff shows how each model translates into the "Nation as Family" metaphor, also including several chapters on how these worldviews influence a person's opinion on a wide variety of particular political and social views. He illustrates how certain opinions tend to cluster together under the "conservative" or "liberal" umbrellas; showing consistency in what seems inconsistent to those of the opposing worldview.

Also included are chapters about the varieties of liberals and conservatives; how they relate to and contrast with their central models, a chapter on how each side stereotypes the other side, pointing to extreme and pathological examples as falsely being typical of the central model.

Lastly, Lakoff, as an admitted liberal writes about why he believes that the Nurturant Parent model is better for both children and society in general.

Pragmatists, both liberal and conservative, will find much of use in this book for better understanding and working with the other side, but I'm guessing that the ideologically pure of both sides will remain unconvinced and unsympathetic of their ideological opponents.

However, I recommend this book highly to anyone of any political persuasion with an open mind who wants to know how the other side "ticks".

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Libertine Booklist 2

A couple of years ago, I posted a Libertine Book List. I've read many more pertinent books since that time, so I thought I'd update and add to the list.

Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles by Robin Baker (2006)

A book that refutes old assumptions about sexuality. For instance, ten percent of women's babies are conceived in infidelity, less than one percent of a man's sperm is capable of impregnating a woman -- the rest is there to fight off other men's sperm, vaginal mucus encourages some sperm but blocks others, and a woman is more likely to conceive through infidelity than with her regular partner. Written in a matter-of-fact, objective, and non-judgmental style.

America's War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty by Marty Klein, PhD (2006)

An analysis of our sexually repressed culture by a certified sex therapist, with an focus on how the religious right and other sex-negative forces are attempting to limit the sexual expression of consenting adults. A must for those who believe that civil rights include the right of consenting adults to freely conduct their private sex lives however they wish without government regulation or interference. Read my review of this book (23 October 2006 for more information),

The Principled Libertine: The Ethical Case for Sexual and Erotic Freedom by Desmond Ravenstone (2006)

A short self-published book by a libertine who espouses attitudes very similar to my own about the expression of sexuality. The author proposes a challenging alternative: that sex should be viewed just like any other activity, and that respecting diversity and choice is more ethical than imposing a narrow set of rules. The book is somewhat unpolished and incomplete, but this does not mar the book's value nor detract from the good ideas expressed.

Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance by Janet Jakobsen and Ann Pelligrini (2004)

This book tackles the issue of sexual freedom from the interesting perspective of comparing the freedom of sexual expression to that of religious freedom. Read my review of this book (12 June 2006) for more information about this book.

Casanova's Women: The Great Seducer and the Women He Loved by Judith Summers (2006)

A look at the life of this famous libertine from the perspective of his many lovers.

Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America by John D'Emilio and Esther Freedman (1988)

The title is pretty much self-explanatory. An interesting look at how attitudes toward sex have changed during the course of our nation's history.

Marriage: Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel (2006)

The author acknowledges that monogamy is "
a ship sinking faster than anyone can bail it out." Instead of demanding that married couples simply try harder to be monogamous, she accept reality and takes the position that a successful marriage doesn't necessarily have to be strictly monogamous.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rambling About Universal Health Care

If what I'm reading in the newspaper and from new sources online, it would seem as if the hot button issue for the 2008 Presidential election will be improving our health care system. All the current Democratic candidates have announced their support for universal health care, though none yet have outlined any specific plans. Even President Bush mentioned improving the health care system in his State of the Union address, though his ideas on this issue were inadequate.

Currently, 46 million Americans are uninsured, with most of these being low wage workers, those working for small businesses, and/or many self-employed people. Working Americans with insurance get it largely through their employers,with relatively few buying their own insurance privately. Employer-provided insurance comes from numerous insurance companies, with the plans varying widely in cost and quality.

Those against universal health care insist that it's "socialized medicine" and that it doesn't work, pointing to Canada as a typical example, citing long waits for major medical procedures. To that I'd say, better to wait than not to get to see the doctor at all!

Americans without insurance, who typically work for low wages and/or for small businesses tend not to go to the doctor for routine, preventive care because they can't afford it. They go to the doctor only for things that won't go away on their own and for life-threatening problems. Many times, these problems could have been avoided by preventive care, which would have been much less expensive.

The same opponents also advise those without insurance to simply buy their own. Again, low wage workers cannot afford the high costs of buying health insurance privately. I was listening to a local talk show on the radio and this one man says it costs him 800 dollars a month each for him and his wife to buy their own insurance, and this was a childless couple. Add the costs of insuring children, and this would be more than many people make in a month.

Another caller said that the uninsured should just "save up" for their future health care costs. Yeah, right -- now THAT'S a practical plan when the bill for many types of major surgery and for chronic illnesses can be well over a hundred thousand dollars and then some.

Still another caller, said that he thought there should be health insurance for everyone, but that they should have to "work for it", that it shouldn't just be "given to them". I thought to myself, "Why not"? Isn't access to decent health care a human right?

I think that one's health insurance shouldn't be tied to their employment. For one thing, it limits the freedom of workers -- many, many people are stuck in demeaning, deadening jobs because they can't afford to quit. They stay for the health insurance. At my last job, there were several workers still working well beyond retirement age into their seventies, so that their disabled spouses could continue to have access to decent health care.

Employer provided insurance also means fewer jobs available, as employers will operate with fewer permanent employees and more contract, temporary workers as a way to cut costs, as they don't have to provide health insurance to temps. If the health insurance monkey was taken off the backs of employers, I think we'd see them employing more permanent employees.

I've read claims that a single insurance source would be cheaper and more efficient in the long run than the patchwork system we have now. It's certainly worth a try.

At the very least, Medicaid could be extended to low-wage workers whose employers do not provide health insurance, as a stopgap measure, while a better, more permanent universal health care program is being worked out.

Universal health care, like universal education, is a wise investment, as healthy, educated Americans tend to make positive contributions to our economy and society, where sick and uneducated ones do not. The best measure of the greatness of a society is not in how its most fortunate members live, but, rather, in how the least of its citizens do.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Child Support Nightmare

Today I read something in the paper that gave me decidedly mixed feelings:

The police in our county are looking for a man who owes child support simultaneously to SIX women. The newspaper article asked for readers with tips to his whereabouts to call police with the information.

My first reaction was to laugh my ass off. How could he be so stupid as to get that many women pregnant in so short a time? Hadn't he ever heard of CONDOMS?

My second reaction was to shudder in horror and be glad that it was him and not me. Considering how I conduct my sex life, I thought to myself, "But for the grace of God, go I".

My third reaction was to run out to the drug store and stock up on condoms. My motto when it comes to sex is "Be prepared". Always.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

An "Honor" Killing?

In what is not an entirely rare occurrence in his country, a Jordanian man has killed his daughter simply because he suspected she was not a virgin, despite a medical examination that proved she was. After surrendering himself to police, the man described his actions as preserving his family's "honor". An autopsy later performed showed that she was still a virgin at her death.

Honor? Where is the honor in killing one's own child who should be loved, protected, and honored herself? Where is the honor in valuing what other people think of one's family over one's family itself?

This is but another example of the sick mentality that demonizes sex, that denies human nature and twists what a normal and natural part of life into something perverted. Some people say that any kind of sex that exists outside of a legal marriage is perverted. I say they're wrong; it's repressing sex that leads to incidents like this that is truly perverted.

What's so special about virginity for women, anyway? Virginity as a virtue actually originally stems from strictly practical reasons, rather than religious ones. In ancient societies that had begun living in settled communities where people acquired large amounts of property and possessions, the practice of inheritance came about. A man wanted to know which children were actually his, so that he'd not mistakenly leave his property to children he'd not actually sired. So, regulating the sexuality of women came into being, including virginity for unmarried women. In other words, the virtue of virginity is directly related to the value of money. Hardly anything spiritual or sacred here, though the religions of the time soon added these requirements, effectively given the originally secular practice the force of law.

Nowadays, with DNA paternity tests, the original justification for regulating women's sexuality no longer exists. Nevertheless, the attitudes continue, because the origins of these practices are shrouded in myth, inseparable from religion to many people. But, when you get right down to it, this man killed his daughter because of a practice that values money over people. And where is the honor in that?


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lopsided Sex Ratio in China

China, in attempts to slow down their runaway population explosion, has had a regulation since the 1970s legally limiting each Chinese family to only one child. This, combined with the traditional Chinese preference for male children and medical technology that allows people to know their child's sex before birth, has created a severely lopsided gender ratio, because of widespread aborting of female babies. In 2005, there were 118 boys born for every 100 girls in China, with some areas reaching an imbalance as high as 130 to 100.

With a present population of 1.3 billion, China expects to have 1.5 billion by 2033. With current gender imbalances, China is expected to have 30 million "surplus" men of marriageable age by 2020, with no hopes of finding partners. Despite this dilemma, China has no plans to abolish the one child per family law, as rampant overpopulation and its huge drain on resources must still be addressed.

Zhang Weiqing, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, has said that in an effort to reduce the gender imbalance, pre-natal gender selection would now be strictly banned.

This is a start. Adding to this, China could embark on a nationwide educational program to combat sexism to teach its population to hold females in higher regard, perhaps with financial incentives attached.

To address the more immediate problems of having 30 million surplus single men, China could also legalize and encourage polyandry (one wife, multiple husbands), as allowing only monogamous marriages in such a population is clearly maladaptive. If the wife in a polyandrous marriage was allowed one child per husband, this would go a long way to help normalize the sex ratio.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Michigan Cracks Down On Adultery

While browsing the web for an inspiration for today's blog entry, I came upon a bit of disturbing news from Michigan.

Michigan's appeals court recently ruled that adultery can be prosecuted as first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in jail.
The appeals court decision was motivated by a case involving a man convicted of trading prescription painkillers for sex. Prosecutors, wanting the defendant to get as much jail time as possible, added the charge of criminal sexual conduct, because the sex involved in this case was adulterous.

Judge William Murphy said, "Technically, any time a person engages in sexual penetration in an adulterous relationship, he or she is guilty of CSC I," which is the most serious sexual assault charge in the state's criminal code.

Though I don't think (I hope) that police will be going around and peeking in people's bedroom windows and checking marriage licenses, just the thought of a court handing down such a ruling concerns me.

First of all, the government has absolutely no business whatsoever trying to regulate the private sex lives of consenting adults. Period. Secondly, if they were ever to seriously attempt to enforce such a ludicrous law, then they'd better be prepared to build new jails on every vacant lot, as they'd be needing the space.

And despite the gains the religious right has made in recent years, America is not a theocracy -- not yet, at least.

The case mentioned above is a drug case, not a rape case -- any sex that took place was not relevant to the original charges.


Friday, January 19, 2007

A Typical Trip to McDonald's

I don't know why I continue to patronize the McDonald's near my house. It's not my favorite type of fast food, and the service is abysmal.

Invariably, when I go there to pick up a quick meal, the cars are lined up around the building. I can tell they've all been there a long time by the tell-tale cobwebs attaching the cars' tires to the ground and the skeletons sitting behind the wheel.

But I never learn my lesson. I get into line, which moves at a glacial pace, my clothes going in and out of style three times as I wait. And wait. And wait. The line moves so slowly, that I could pull out my cell phone, order a pizza to be delivered to me in line -- and I'd be hungry again by the time I made it to the window!

Finally, I make it to the order box: "Wuh, WAH, wah, wah, wuh, WAHHHHH?" So, THIS is where Charlie Brown's teacher got a job after she retired from the elementary school!

I give my order, having to repeat it at least three times: Three chicken wraps and two pies. No, I don't want fries with that.

One century and a drained gas tank later, I finally make it to the pay window, where a sullen, silent teenager takes my money, dropping the coins onto the ground between the building and the car as he/she/it gives me back my change.

An eternity later, I arrive at the food pick up window! The smirking pimple-faced teenager there points at parking spaces just beyond the pick up window, telling me to park it, that they'll bring my food "right out".

Ten years and fourteen cars later, I still have no food. Did they have to go out and kill another chicken? Eventually, I realize they've forgotten about me and I have to get out of the car and go inside. My food has been sitting on the counter waiting all that time. I look inside the bag: two chicken wraps and an order of fries. What part of three didn't they understand and I wanted PIES with that, not FRIES!

Many times I vow never to eat there again. But I know I'm a liar. I know the next time I'm low on cash and I'm in a hurry, I'll be back again to try my luck.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Imposing Morality at the Drugstore

My state's Senate is presently considering a bill that would legally allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on ethical, moral, or religious reasons without fear of being fired, demoted or suspended. They would also be immune from civil or criminal liability. Pharmacies would be required to post a notice in their store with the name of the pharmacist and the drugs they object to dispensing.

Typical medications that pharmacists in the past have objected to filling prescriptions for have been birth control pills and the morning after pill.

That a legislative body would even consider such a thing boggles my mind. An independent pharmacist who owns a mom and pop drug store can choose what medications they wish to stock, though they'll no doubt lose business that way.

However, a pharmacist working for a chain pharmacy has no business refusing to dispense medications for a legal prescription available in that store. If they have objections to filling any prescription available in that store, then perhaps they've got the wrong job to begin with and should either open their own drugstore or get into a new line of work entirely. I'm not normally on the side of the employer in labor issues, but I think a pharmacy would be well within their rights to fire a pharmacist who refuses to fill any legal prescription to a paying customer.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

"High Achievers" or "Losers"?

Tonight I was listening to talk radio, where the host, Neal Boortz, was talking about his Fair Tax plan, lamenting that the richest Americans presently pay too much income tax, in his opinion. I've not read his book about the Fair Tax proposal, so I'll not comment on its merits or lack thereof.

What he did say that I'll comment on was his view that rich people are rich because they are "high achievers"; that they earned it. He also said in relation to his opposition to the Minimum Wage increase that those people who work in such jobs are "losers".

Where to begin?

While it is no doubt true that many rich people did indeed earn their money through their own achievements, we must not forget those who inherited their money, those who earned megabucks through criminal activity such as drug dealers and corporate sharks who made their bucks on the backs of people far down the ladder, and those whose jobs have insanely inflated salaries in relation to the actual worth of what they do for a living -- professional athletes, movie stars, and the like. While I am in no way impugning all rich people -- there are many honest, decent wealthy people who truly earn and deserve their wealth -- I heartily disagree with Boortz' implication that all wealthy people are deserving simply because they are rich.

Nor would I have been so hard on him about this if he'd not painted all poor working people with the same brush as "losers". He implied that people who work for low wages have those jobs because they are lazy, stupid, have no ambition, and thus deserve no better.

Of course, there are lazy, shiftless poor people, but most people who work in low wage, menial jobs work very hard for the pittance they are paid. Many of these same people work 2 or 3 of these jobs to meet basic living expenses, and get to see very little of their families while awake. Some people work these thankless jobs while attending college, if they are lucky.

Boortz implies that anyone who is willing to work hard enough can get one of these high paying jobs and anyone who can't or chooses not to is nothing but a loser. I have two major problems with this view.

Some people eschew a high paid corporate job in order to pursue jobs they find more meaningful, despite their relatively low pay: teachers, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, and the like. I dare anyone to call these people low achieving losers because they don't rake in the big bucks.

Secondly, there are a lot more low wage jobs available than positions in high-paying rewarding careers. If, by some miracle, every American earned a university degree, qualifying them for a high paying career, someone would still have to flip the burgers, carry the bags, wait the tables, drive the taxis, clean the public restrooms, and so on. The reality is that good jobs aren't available for every qualified person who wants one. And I dare say that America would be a much poorer nation if there was no one willing to do these low wage, unglamorous, but very necessary jobs.

A person's value isn't contained in the type of job they have or how much money they make. Everyone, rich and poor, deserves to be treated fairly, decently and not be taken advantage of.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Quotes and Commentary

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
--James Baldwin

I think it's the duty of Americans who care about their country to speak up when the government isn't living up to the principles this country was founded on.

You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note.
--Doug Floyd

How boring it would be if everyone thought, looked and acted alike.

Fix the problem, not the blame.
--Japanese Proverb

Knowing whose fault a particular problem is does nothing to solve the problem.

Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture?
--David Bohm

It's too bad that people of opposing political and religious viewpoints cannot learn this lesson.

He who is different from me does not impoverish me - he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves - in Man... For no man seeks to hear his own echo, or to find his reflection in the glass.
--Antoine De Saint-Exupery

I learn the most and my thinking is most improved by those with whom I disagree.

If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.
--Gene Roddenberry

Differences enhance, rather than detract from humanity

Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.
--Arnold Edinborough

A life without curiosity is essentially a barren one.

Those who restrain their desires, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.
--William Blake

Restraining my desires would be like trying to keep a tornado from a trailer park.

Only the educated are free.

Knowledge is power Those who would seek to control others would start by limiting their education.

Jealousy, that dragon which slays love under the pretence of keeping it alive.
--Havelock Ellis

Love is to be freely given, not jealously hoarded.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.
--Henry Ford

I hope never to be old.

Definition of Politics: "Poli" in latin meaning "many" and "tics" meaning "blood-sucking parasites."

Isn't that the truth!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture

The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture

Frederick S Lane

Date: 2006-08 — Book

product page


Review of The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture

A broad, meandering look at the history of religious and political attempts to impose "decency" on the American culture. Though there is a brief look at pre-20th century decency crusaders, such as Anthony Comstock and the YMCA, the book's focus is on the 20th century up until the present time.

Topics covered include attempts to censor books, art, and the various broadcast media, through the efforts of the religious right wing, conservative politicians, and industry self-regulation (the FCC, the film industry) in response to pressure from the previous two sources. Also covered are the setbacks that the deregulations of the Reagan years had on those who would regulate the nebulous concept of decency in our country.

Religious and political "hot-button" issues perceived to be matters of decency, such as abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research are also covered. Particular attention is paid to how political conservatives have long given lip service to the religious right wing in order to gain their votes, but have delivered very little action to back up their campaign promises to "clean up" America.

The concluding chapter suggest some strategies to promote the true meaning of decency, which differs significantly from the religious conservative concept of it

The critical issue is not, ultimately, who is sleeping with whom or what body parts might be visible; the central question should always be whether this nation is treating its own citizens with basic human compassion and is a moral participant in the world community. Those are decency wars worth fighting.

I took one star away because I thought that the author devoted too many pages (the prologue and the entire first chapter) to the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl, which could have been more succinctly covered in a few paragraphs. Otherwise, this was a fascinating read.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Pleasure of Books

An ordinary man can surround himself with two thousand books and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy.
--Augustine Birrell

Quite some time ago, I read a biography of Giacomo Casanova, who is probably the most famous libertine of all time. As with me, the two greatest passions of his life were the pursuit of sex and books. Casanova spent the last part of life, after his virility had faded and he could no longer pursue new lovers, as the librarian
to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein in the Castle of Dux in Bohemia (now Czech Republic). This was also where he wrote his autobiography, which is still in print.

The above quote reminded me of this, and I thought it was quite a fitting retirement for a bibliophile libertine. When the time comes for me that I'll no longer be able to catch the lovers I pursue (and not do them any good if I did!), the prospect of spending my last years surrounded by books and learning is not a bad one. Though my primary pleasure will then be just many happy memories, there will still be much pleasure to be had by reading. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope my "retirement" is still many years in the future.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

For the Good of the Children

Many people believe that a two parent family is better for children to grow up in than a single parent family. Similarly, many of these same people also believe that it's best for children if one parent stays at home full time while they are growing up.

However, these beliefs vary somewhat depending on why a parent is single, and, in the case of two parent families, the gender of the stay at home parent.

There are those people are quick to judge someone who is a single parent by divorce, or never having been married. They point to higher rates of juvenile delinquency, mental illness, diminished grades, poverty, reduced opportunities, etc, as being the typical fallout of growing up in a single parent family. These people sometimes imply that people are selfish for having children without being married or for getting divorced when one has young children. Those contemplating divorce are urged to stay with their spouses "for the children's sake" and those already divorced or never married are advised to marry so that the children can have two parents.

Many people today are under the mistaken impression that single parent families were uncommon before the 1960s. This is a misconception; there have always been a reasonable percentage of one parent families. What has changed is the typical reason why the parent is single. Years ago, most single parent families existed because one parent had died. Nowadays, most single parents are either never-married or divorced.

But it's rare for those people who disapprove of single parent families to criticize those who are single parents by death. Widowed parents get more support and generally are not urged to remarry as quickly as possible. In my own experience, I can't remember anyone advising my father to remarry because I needed a mother, but I was told many times that my son needed a mother and that I was selfish to remain single

It would seem, though, that all the supposed disadvantages of growing up in a single parent family would hold true regardless of why one's single parent was single. The fact that single parent familes by divorce or out of wedlock are often viewed more negatively than single parent families by death would indicate to me that the real issue for these people isn't so much the children's welfare, per se, but rather their disapproval of divorce and having children out of wedlock.

Similarly, many people believe children do better when they have a full time parent at home. By parent, 99 percent of these people mean mother. Many of these same people would take a dim view of a father, single or married, who does not work outside the home for money. And if a mother is single, especially if she's never been married or is divorced, then these same people will call her lazy if she wants to be a full time mother.

Again, whatever benefits there are to having a full time parent or drawbacks of being a "latchkey" kid should be the same regardless of the gender of one's full time parent or why one's single parent is single. This difference in judgment indicates more of a disapproval of wage earning women and unemployed men in two parent families, and being on welfare for single parent families, more so than what is really best for children.

It would be easier if people would state their prejudices openly, rather than trying to disguise them behind a less than altruistic concern for the welfare of children.


Sunday, January 7, 2007

You Can't Get a Job With Experience and You Can't Get Experience Without a Job

While recently browsing through employment wand ads online from a variety of sources, I looked through the jobs on one database that had been categorized as "entry level".

All of these jobs, with few exceptions, required applicants to have varying levels of experience in order to apply. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I've always understood "entry level" to mean the lowest rung of the ladder at a particular workplace, where an applicant need not have any paid experience prior to employment. Having the proper level of education,depending upon what kind of job it was, was considered sufficient.

None of the jobs I looked at involved anything approaching rocket science; they were jobs that an average person could learn in a few days with training. Yet, all required experience; in one instance the ad specified that an applicant have 2 to 5 years experience. And this was a minimum wage job working in a bookstore coffee shop!

Where to begin?

I'm sorry, but a job that properly requires "two to five years experience" is NOT an entry level job, but a mid-level job.
Secondly, no mid-level job pays the minimum wage, nor is being a clerk in a coffee shop a mid-level job.

And how do they determine just how much experience is enough? If someone requires a minimum of two years of experience as being a coffee shop clerk in order to perform their job, I'm guessing that person is an exceptionally slow learner. I'm guessing they just pull these numbers arbitrarily out of their ass; whatever sounds impressive to them.

And do they not realize that a person who has been slaving away two to five years in a coffee shop might want to get a better job next time, instead of having to start at the bottom again in another coffee shop?

They can't have it both ways -- they shouldn't be able to require mid-level experience, combined with subpar entry level wages and duties.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Turning Back the Clock

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about my county voting to rescind the county's Sunday Blue Laws, which prohibited stores from opening before 1:30 in the afternoon and prohibited the sale of alcohol at any time on Sunday.

Yesterday, after the newly elected County Council was sworn in, their first order of business to was to reinstate the Blue Laws.

"It is a great concern with the majority of my constituents that are Christians or have a Christian background,"
a council member said. "We believe in a day of rest and a day of praise for the Lord, so that was important for us."

Well, I'm all for a day of rest, but it should not be based on religion. Blue laws are a violation of the separation of church and state. It's not the government's role to promote or facilitate church attendance. By having blue laws on Sunday, the government is favoring one religion, Christianity, over all others. If blue laws were applied fairly, then why not Saturday closings to promote and facilitate synagogue attendance for Jews, and so on?

Those who wish to attend church, will find a time to go, blue laws or not. Most churches have multiple worship service times in addition to the ones on Sunday morning. At any rate, it's a private matter that shouldn't be the government's concern.

If people want to shop on Sunday mornings and/or buy alcohol on that day, it's their own private business. Stores should be able to decide their own hours and be able to sell anything in their inventory seven days a week. All the surrounding counties have abolished their blue laws, so the main effect of reinstating ours will simply mean that revenue will go to these counties instead of our own.


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

First, Do No Harm

I've never been a Republican, nor did I vote for Gerald Ford when I cast my first vote at age 18 in 1976. Yet, I respected him and I see his passing as representing the end of an era. He was one of the last of the generation of old school moderate Republicans, the type of Republican that we need in Washington today.

Ford was a regular guy, who hadn't sought glory, nor was elected to be President. Yet he stood up and did his duty to help the country move forward after the debacle of Watergate. Many criticized him, then and now, for pardoning Nixon, but he wasn't afraid to make an unpopular decision and stick with it, even though it probably cost him being elected in his own right in 1976.

I was in high school during the Ford years and I remember that time as one of general stability. He didn't do anything momentous while president, but neither did he do any harm. Returning the nation to stability after a time of great turmoil will likely be how history most remembers Gerald Ford.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Banned Words for 2007

Yesterday, Michigan's Lake Superior State University released its 30th annual "List of Words and Phrases Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness." As a language lover and a hater of inane words and expressions, I read the list with great interest. Following is their current list, with my suggestions for their 2008 list:

GITMO -- slang for
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. This one doesn't bother me if used sparingly.

COMBINED CELEBRITY NAMES -- as in "Brangelina", "TomKat", and "Bennifer". Yep, this one's puke-worthy.

AWESOME -- When used as to refer to things of a mundane or banal nature, to refer to anything that is not worthy of
"fear mingled with admiration or reverence; a feeling produced by something majestic". The overuse of this word betrays a lack of vocabulary.

GONE/WENT MISSING -- Is this anything like going on vacation?

PWN/PWNED -- An overly used internet typo for "own/owned" from the gamer world. Not being a gamer, this is the first time I've heard this one.

-- As opposed to those movies now playing in gas stations?

WE'RE PREGNANT -- This is one of my favorite love-to-hate expressions. A couple may both be expecting, but only SHE is pregnant. Puke.

UNDOCUMENTED ALIEN -- PC term for illegal alien. To use this expression is like calling a drug dealer and "undocumented pharmacist".

ARMED ROBBERY/DRUG DEAL GONE BAD -- another inane euphemism

TRUTHINESS -- this is a new one on me, and I hope I never hear it again.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR -- From prescription medication ads. How stupid do they think people are? Do they think if they have a question about a medication that they'd ask their auto mechanic instead?

i-ANYTHING -- Something else I don't see often

SEARCH -- As opposed to "google". I think this needs to be reversed.

HEALTHY FOOD -- If the chicken you had for lunch was still healthy, it would be out clucking in the hen house, not lying on your plate. The word needed in this instance is "healthful".

BOASTS -- As used in real estate ads;
“master bedroom boasts his-and-her fireplaces — never ‘bathroom apologizes for cracked linoleum,’ or ‘kitchen laments pathetic placement of electrical outlets.’'

Here's my list of suggestions:

PROLLY — purposeful internet misspelling of probably. We don’t even SAY it that way.

TEH — purposeful internet misspelling of the. Seeing it once is funny, seeing it consistently is annoying.

IMPACT — when used to mean “affect” or “influence”.

SOLUTIONS — used in recent years as part of business names. “Sleep Solutions” for a mattress company, “Car Solutions” for a used car lot, “Senior Solutions” for an adult day car center.

HOT — when used to mean sexy. Sexy is sexy and hot needs an air-conditioner.

FREE GIFT — if it’s a gift, then of course it’s free. Who ever heard of a gift you had to pay for?

FLAVORFUL — as used in grocery store ads. Just because something is full of flavor, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is a GOOD flavor.

GARDEN APARTMENT — Used to describe a type of apartment. Trouble is, whenever I’ve seen one of those, there is never a garden anywhere on the premises.

ARTIST — when used to refer to a musician, singer, or band. These are three precise words to describe a musical performer, where “artist” is more vague. Let’s reserve artist for the visual arts.

Any concocted word ending in -LICIOUS — Delicious is fine, anything else is cringe-worthy.

BEHIND BARS -- Jails and prisons with actual bars have gone the way of the black and white striped prison suit.

Feel free to add any words or phrases you think belong on this list.
To see their lists from previous years: