Friday, November 30, 2007

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Romney

One would think that Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, would be committed to the idea of religous tolerance, considering that most Christian fundamentalists consider Mormonism to be nothing more than a bizarre cult. Indeed, Romney has said on several occasions that he considers religious discrimination to be "un-American."

But it seems as if Romney hasn't been entirely truthful about his commitment to religious tolerance. Recently, when questioned in Las Vegas about whether he would "consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters", he replied, "...based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Never mind that the Muslim percentage of the US population is quite similar to that of the Mormon percentage -- I'm sure he'd not discriminate against his own. Jews are also a small percentage of the US population, but even Romney isn't stupid enough to suggest discrimination here based on population percentages.

To use population percentages as a basis for choosing cabinet members is nothing but a quota system, something that Romney spoke out against when asked about appointing African-Americans to his cabinet: "... suggesting that we have to fill spots based on checking off boxes of various ethnic groups is really a very inappropriate way to think about how we staff positions.

I'm very pleased that, among my Cabinet members, for instance, I had several African-American individuals. I had people of different backgrounds. But I don't go in every circumstance I'm in and say, OK, how many African-Americans, how many Hispanic-Americans, how many Asian-Americans, and fill boxes that way."

It's quite obvious that Romney is simply pandering to the Christian fundamentalist wing of the Republican party in order to gain more votes. Never mind that they consider him, as a Mormon, to merely be a lesser evil than the fundamentalist radical wing of the Islamic religion.

In any instance, Romney's a hypocrite of the first order.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Future Predictions

When I was a kid in the sixties and a teen in the seventies, I thought of how I'd be living in the 21st century one day, which then seemed so far in the future to me. Like many people, I wondered what kinds of new technology would be part of our everyday lives.

I envisioned flying or hovering cars and personal jetpacks that would allow a person to fly. I thought we'd have a base on the moon by now and would have also been to Mars. I thought people would be working six hour days and four day weeks, instead of people working more and more hours.

I didn't anticipate personal computers, nor the internet. I visited my father's office in the early 70s and he showed me their computer room, which contained several large, refrigerator-sized, reel-to-reel cabinets that was part of the computer system. Data was entered into them using "keypunch" cards -- there were no visual monitors. At that time, I would have never imagined people using a typewriter keyboard and a TV-like monitor, powered by a computer that could sit on a table, let alone using a notebook computer smaller than a briefcase that you could carry around with you. Scanners, printers, and affordable copiers were likewise something I never thought of.

Nor did I imagine cell phones. Being able to use the phone anywhere, let alone use a phone to play music, take pictures, and so on never entered my imagination. I can actually remember when we got our first push-button phone in 1967 and call-waiting a few years after that and thinking how great that was.

What are some things you predicted about the future that have yet to come to pass and what are some things that you never imagine we'd have now?

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Bit of an Overreaction

In a recent broadcast on the NBC Nightly News about Queen Elizabeth's 60th wedding anniversary, newscaster Brian Williams made a comment about what an achievement this was, especially in 2007 when “marriage seems ‘under attack’ as an institution.”

Some advocates for same-sex marriage took offense at Williams' comments, claiming that he was stating disapproval for the push to legalize same-sex marriage.

I can't say that this is what I got out of that statement. Rather, I took his remarks as a commentary about divorce, considering he was congratulating the Queen solely for the endurance of her marriage, rather than the quality of it.

After receiving a torrent of critical emails, Williams issued the following statement:

“My meaning? Our national divorce rate, which is currently somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Others took it upon themselves to decide that I was somehow attacking gay marriage. The simple fact is that nothing could have been further from my mind, as many others easily understood. In fact, one comment shared with me today came from a respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, who said, ‘It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack — by straight people. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement.’”

This isn't to say that I'm letting Williams completely off the hook, however. In a comment I made at Alternet about this incident, I said, in part, "Williams' comments about marriage being under attack in the context of the Queen's sixty year marriage indicates that his sole yardstick about the success of a marriage is simply how long it lasts, with the quality of the relationship apparently irrelevant. In other words, it's all about quantity, not quality."

Indeed, the point to the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as a model of a successful long-time marriage is to use a poor example, as their marriage bears little resemblance to that of the average person. For one thing, the Queen, if she wanted to remain queen and not be obliged to abdicate as did her uncle, HAD to stay married, no matter how miserable and personally unfulfilling her relationship was with Philip. She was also limited in her choice of marriage partners, and the main point of a royal marriage is to continue the dynasty, to produce future heirs to the throne -- whether or not she actually loved Philip was entirely besides the point.

In other words, the longevity of their marriage has little or nothing to say to the marriages of average people. As far as the divorce rate, which Williams associated with an "attack on marriage", I think this commenter from Alternet said it well:

"A high divorce rate doesn't mean an institution under attack any more than a high rate of traffic citations meaning driving is under attack. Times are tough economically and one of the biggest stress factors on a marriage is finances and money problems."

You would think that all these right-wing knuckle heads would suddenly realize that this prized institution of marriage that they harp on ad nauseum would become more stable if people had less worries about job security, adequate incomes, health care access and losing their homes through foreclosure."

Another commenter pointed out:

"Marriage like everything else has changed.It's not under fire. It's no longer a social requirement.Nor should it be.Strictly defined, marriage serves to protect family fortunes & property and to create legal heirs to same. It's a job. Traditionally it's more work for women than men. Women now go to a job and get paid. It's not about gays. "The Times Are A'Changin". There's a lot of work yet to be done."


For a short overview of how marriage has changed in the last two thousand years, click here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lame Commercial

While in the car this evening, I heard an irritating commercial on the radio.

It was for one of these cheap-ass hair cutting places and it featured an announcer talking to a very bad imitation of Homer Simpson. The announcer asked if Bart is still acting up. Homer replied that he's not and the announcer asked why not. Homer replied that Bart is now "clean cut"; that he took him to Super Cuts for a haircut. Homer said Bart had been behaving himself ever since the haircut.

That pissed me off; the assumption that, for males, long hair = lawlessness and/or misbehavior and that short hair = good behavior and/or moral superiority.

In another commercial by the same company, the exact details I cannot remember right now, the long-haired male is portrayed as a unemployable loser, a bum.

It seems to me that this place could find a better way to sell their services than to appeal to tired stereotypes. After all, commercials for hair stylists that are aimed at women focus on hair styling, not hair length, and do not present one style as being superior to another.

But I suppose they're catering to the lowest common denominator, just like most advertisers do.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgivings Past

Today, I thought I'd write about how I've spent Thanksgiving in the past.

As a little kid, when I lived in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, we always shared Thanksgiving dinner with my aunt's family, who lived about ten miles from us. One year, we'd gather at our house, the following at my aunt's house. We shared Christmas dinner with them, too, and we'd have Christmas at the house of whoever did not host Thanksgiving that year. When Thanksgiving was at our house, my mother would set up the children's table down in the cellar, while the adults at upstairs.

I have a memory of being about seven years old and going down the stairs to the basement to eat my Thanksgiving meal. On the way down, I jumped over a football I'd left on the stairs and sang, "Over the football and down the stairs, to Thanksgiving meal I go" to the tune of "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go". I don't know why I have this snippet of memory still with me, but I remember doing that quite clearly all these years later.

A few years later, after we'd moved to New Jersey, about 300 miles from where I'd lived before, I remember my aunt's family driving all that way to share the holiday meal with us. There was one year where we all went for a walk to try to burn off some of the many calories we'd just ingested. My mother had left what was left of the turkey on the table as we walked, intending to clean up after we'd returned. When we got back, the dog had the turkey on the floor and was going to town on the meat that remained. All these years later, I can't remember why we'd not taken the dog on the walk with us.

After my mother died, and it was just my father and I living in the house, my Dad and I would drive the 300 miles back in the other direction to spend Thanksgiving with the relatives, who were my mother's kin, not my Dad's. It was too far (about 600 miles) to go spend it with his relatives and, at that time, he'd spent more of his adult life among my mother's relatives rather than his own, so he felt more comfortable with her people, anyway.

Some years after this, when I was in college in the late 70s, and my father's job had transferred him out of state, I spent a few Thanksgivings eating with my now-married brother and his family, who lived about 30 miles from where I went to college.

After I got a divorce and moved in with my father for a few years, we didn't have any family at all near us. My father invited all the single people at his office who didn't have family to spend Thanksgivings with us as long as we lived there.

Once we all moved to where I am now, my son and I spent quiet Thanksgivings with my father and stepmother until he died.

Since that time, twelve years ago, we've either eaten Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant or with friends. I remember one Thanksgiving in Georgia, around 2000 or so, where we'd all gone to Ryan's, then another person and I got diarrhea so bad that I had to spend the night at their home. Between the two of us, we gave their poor toilet quite a workout. The two of us had been the only two to eat cheesecake, so I'm guessing that was the culprit for our case of dysentery.

What are some of your Thanksgiving memories?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Nanny Nonsense

The earliest episodes of Sesame Street are now available on DVD. But there's a curious warning label on the very first episode, which originally aired on November 10, 1969:

“These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”


What's so horrible about a vintage children's show you might ask? And what makes the company that released the DVD think that preschoolers of the late 1960s were tougher and able to handle more than today's cocooned-in-bubble-wrap 2007 toddlers?

Cookie Monster used to appear in a parody skit with a pipe, which he later gobbled. Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” explained,“That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

And then there's the ever-depressive Oscar the Grouch. According to a New York Times article, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable on the first episode — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially upbeat except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” Parente said.

Also on the first episode, a lonely little girl, Sally, is asked by a grown man she just met, Gordon, to come visit his home. Oh, no! He might be a sexual predator! Never mind that all that happened was that Sally got to meet Gordon's wife and was fed milk and cookies. But it might have been fattening whole milk and the cookies might have had trans fat in them! Horrors!

On the premiere show, Snuffleupagus is visible only to Big Bird. This was changed in 1985 so that all the characters can see him, so Big Bird wouldn't seem so "weird" and "creepy" to other people. Cookie Monster also eats only cookies -- they can't be showing sensitive 2007 kids characters who don't eat a balanced diet; someone who eats for the sheer joy of it, instead of for utilitarian reasons.

Another feature of the earlier Sesame Street that might not fly today was that it pretty much accepted people as they were and did not expect them all to ambitiously "shape up" in every area of their lives -- you weren't expected to change very much. Learning was presented as a way to make life more interesting and colorful, not necessarily as the fast-track to success -- it was valued for its own sake. According to the New York Times article: "it encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading."

Though I was already too old for Sesame Street when it premiered -- at age 11, I was part of the Captain Kangaroo generation --I saw some of those earlier episodes with my young nieces. There was nothing wrong for kids to see in them then, and I'm guessing kids haven't changed much in the nearly 40 years since.

Parents of toddlers: buy them and let them watch.


Sunday, November 18, 2007


A recent photo of the Earth and moon taken by an unmanned Japanese spacecraft orbiting the moon.

Another poignant reminder of how we're all on this small, fragile lifeboat together hurtling through the cold void of space.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nanny State: Book Review

Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children
by David Harsanyi

"The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool...but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog"
--G.K. Chesterton

This quote, at the beginning of David Harsanyi's "Nanny State", succinctly sums up exactly what is wrong with the explosion of "nanny laws" in western society.

"Nanny state" actions are policies such as bans on smoking in public places, high taxes on junk food, bans on recreational drug use, gun control, a legal drinking age or legal smoking age that is higher than the age of majority, political correctness, censorship, certain types of regulations concerning consensual sex between adults, zero tolerance policies, and content regulation. Such actions result from the belief that the state or the local government has a duty to protect citizens from their own harmful behaviors, and that the state knows best what constitutes harmful behavior. The author defines the nanny state as, "a place where government takes a hyper-interest in micromanaging the welfare of its citizens, shielding us from our own injurious and irrational behavior."

Harsanyi believes that government acting as in loco parentis is dangerous because, "the more government feels comfortable subverting our right to live as we wish -- while not hurting others -- simply to create a more agreeable society, the state will feel increasingly comfortable sabotaging our rights on all fronts." In other words, "nanny laws" are a dangerous slippery slope.

He also believes that a nannyistic government goes against the intentions that the Founding Fathers had for our government. Harsanyi points out that it specifically subverts the notion of the "pursuit of happiness". He explains that the pursuit of happiness should be "tethered to the pillars of liberty and responsibility"; which gives us the right to be "wrong, dumb, and irresponsible".

Both conservatives and liberals are concerned about "nannyism", though they define what constitutes inappropriate government intrusion differently. Harsanyi, a libertarian, takes a balanced view in that he tars both conservatives and liberals equally with the "nanny" brush.

Harsanyi notes that there has been little protest against the proliferation in the last twenty years ago of such laws and policies and asks the question, "When exactly did you lost your right to be unhealthy, unsafe, immoral, and politically incorrect? What if I want to be fat, drunk, immoral, and intolerably foolish?"

The author states: "The Nanny State will argue that there is no excuse for government to protect a mentally stable citizen from making his or her own choices and that words and ideas like 'freedom' and 'responsibility' must again be injected into any conversation or debate about laws that affect personal behavior."

In the book, Harsanyi devotes chapters to different types of nanny policies: food/obesity policies aka "The Twinkie Fascists", anti-alcohol policies, anti-smoking policies, zero tolerance policies and other school-related nannyism, "family values" nannyism; i.e. those who attempt to legislate personal morality, anti-porn censorship and other anti-sex policies, policies that hamper those who wish to start small businesses, anti-gambling laws, among others. The last chapter deals with how society pays; what the negative fallout results from such paternalism.

I found myself in agreement with nearly all the author had to say, with the exception of his views of laws designed to protect the welfare of animals. I believe that laws are necessary to protect pets and other animals, as they cannot protect themselves from cruel and/or irresponsible humans. Otherwise, this book is a real breath of fresh air in our increasingly busybody, politically correct, and self-righteous society.

I recommend this book to anyone to cares about personal liberty and the rights of competent adults to live however they wish as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others to live differently.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why I Am An Agnostic

Over on Rubicon's blog, there is a lively debate as to existence of God, faith vs science, evolution vs creationism, and the like.

After reading all the comments, I was inspired to write this entry, which I'd originally intended to merely be a comment over there.

Rubicon said:
Atheism is not a's a belief system, one ripe with absolute inconsistencies, and one that atheists have a real hard time arguing and or proving. You can argue and or debate in a political environment, and have some hope of getting your views across...try and debate or argue with an atheist and you'll soon become the biggest loser.

That's why I'm an agnostic. I don't think there's enough conclusive proof either way to say that God does or does not exist. I think that extreme fundamentalists of all religions (note that I said fundamentalists, not all adherents of religion) and extreme atheists both are arrogant in their black and white, yes/no view of the world.

Though I'm assuredly a skeptic, I cannot comfortably close and lock the door completely on the idea of some sort of Higher Power, or God. Science cannot prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is no God any more that religion can prove the validity of its claims. So, the jury is out until something comes along that can prove it one way or the other. I'll just keep a skeptical, but open to change, mind for now.

With that in mind, let me go on to say what I do believe. One question I've pondered is why does religion exist in the first place? I've concluded that religion serves two major purposes, one benign, the other malign.

I think religion evolved among the ancients, where there was little science to understand the world around them, as a way to explain the unexplainable and to provide comfort to people as they dealt with the many hardships of life. Though science today has explained much of what was inexplicable to the ancients, much still remains unknown and unexplainable today, though it will lessen even more in the years to come. I doubt, however, that everything will ever be known to humanity. There will always be some mystery to life, however minuscule it may eventually come to be. And life will always have hardships, so religion in its benign sense can still function as a source of comfort for many people.

However, religion has most assuredly had a dark side throughout its history. And humanity has seen much more of negative religion than positive religion. Malign religion acts to control people, to keep them in line. Religion has been a perfect vehicle over the millennia for those in power to justify whatever they wanted to impose upon a nation's people, however malevolent. In ancient times, just to proclaim that "God said it" was to give unequivocal authority in a way that no secular body of laws could ever hope to accomplish. Fundamentalism, in all its forms, remains today the descendant of the original forms of malign religion in that it serves or hopes to serve as an inflexible vehicle for social control, rather than as a source of comfort....of grace, if you will.

As an agnostic, I neither revere the Bible, nor do I see it as total rubbish. I see it as a entirely human document, flawed and riddled with inconsistency. It is in no way "inerrant" or inspired by God -- indeed, if it had been, I think an omnipotent being would have come up with something better: consistent and seamless. The writers may have been inspired by their faith to write the documents that were later gathered together as "the Bible"; but that's in no way the same as being directly inspired by any supernatural being. I also think that if there is a God that He/She/It cannot be limited by the Bible or any other tangible, finite object. Indeed, many fundamentalists are guilty of bibliolatry; that is, of making an idol of the Bible and limiting God to its pages.

However, I don't think the Bible is entirely useless, either. I think it's worthy of study as a historical document, to see how the people of that time lived; their culture, literature, ethics, and psychology. It's also essential to study it to see how it's affected society and law in the years since its introduction. Whether or not one is a believer, we cannot discount its influence on modern society.

I believe that if God exists that He/She/It and Jesus are quite a bit different than what fundamentalists would have us to believe. I would think that experiencing God isn't or shouldn't be a "one size fits all" experience for believers, but that it's a personal and private thing, different for each person. Nor do I believe that some people are saved, while others are going to hell -- if there's an afterlife and/or a heaven, I believe that it's for everyone. (To read more detail into this, see my Sept. 18 entry, "Why Human Nature Doesn't Need Salvation")

I respect Jesus as a philosopher who contributed much to the ethical understanding of humanity, but I don't believe in the supernatural claims about him. I don't believe that he was the literal son of any supernatural being, the virgin birth, nor do I believe that he rose from the dead as described in the Bible. However, I don't think that disbelief in any of those things takes anything away from the core ethical principles that he taught. You don't have to believe that his mother conceived him as a virgin in order to believe in "Love thy neighbor as yourself".

To use the example of evolution vs creationism as an illustration of the black and white thinking on both sides, I believe in evolution, but I'm open to the idea that it's possible that some supernatural being/God set it all in motion in the beginning, then stood back and allowed nature to take its course. Lisa and Aielman presented this view over at Rubicon's blog:

Aielman said:

I ...realized that science and religion don't have to conflict at all, especially when you consider the metaphorical nature of the creation.

I have no problem believing that Darwin was correct, just like I have no problem believing that 6 days was a metaphor to explain to a technologically and scientifically ignorant primative man how easy it was for an infinite being like God to make the universe.

I have no problem believing that a day for someone who is outside of time, could be 40 million years for those who aren't. Or that, once creating them, that an infinite being would work within the boundaries of the physical laws in order to do his work.

Aiel hit upon one of the main weaknesses of fundamentalism in their literal approach to the Bible as a static object. To read every word in the Bible literally as if it were a math textbook, to focus on the examples and illustrations of principles, rather than on the principles themselves is to freeze it in time, removing its relevance to people today. When you read it as metaphors that illustrate principles, it has something to say to people today.

I've written quite a novel and I could write volumes more about my agnostic approach to religion, but I'll stop for now. If you're interested, read the entries under my "religion" category that will further get into some of the things I've touched upon in this entry.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Political Correctness Gone Haywire

It seems as if the political correctness police have a new target: Santa Claus.

In Sydney, Australia, department store Santas have been banned from saying "Ho, ho, ho" to the children who come to see them, being instructed to say, "Ha, ha, ha, instead. The reason? The agency that sends Santas to Australian department stores says that it might frighten children and that it may offend women because it sounds to close to an American slang word for prostitute.

Feel free to allow your eyes to roll back into your head at this point.

Similarly, in the UK, department store Santas have been urged to lose weight. Some shopping centers have threatened to ban Santas who do not comply. Bluewater Shopping Centre in Greenhithe, Kent, has even gone one step further and set up a Santa boot camp. "Bluewater's Santa Boot Camp is getting Santa in shape and setting a good example to children who idolise him," Fiona Campbell-Reilly, spokeswoman for Bluewater said.

Has the world gone totally bonkers? Do some people have nothing better to do than to suck the fun and joy out of everything? Does nothing escape the attention of these busybodies? Let Santa be Santa, fer cryin' out loud!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Out of Bounds

When I'm in the car on Sundays, I purposely tune in to religious broadcasts, hoping to hear something that will piss me off and serve as blogging fodder.

And what I heard this Sunday really took the cake.

The preacher told a story about how his son and his son's friend went to the beach or an amusement park -- I tuned into the station when the show was already in progress, so I don't know exactly which.

The son and the friend had each bought a t-shirt of some rock group; I don't know which one, as the preacher didn't specify. Apparently, the t-shirt had a slogan printed on it that was a double entendre; what it said could be taken two ways.

The preacher and his wife immediately took the shirts away from both boys and took scissors to them, laboriously cutting them into very tiny pieces, then throwing the shreds away.

He justified his actions by saying that he wanted to save them from "a lot of embarrassment". Feel free to roll your eyes heavenward at this point.

The man has the right to raise his own son according to his own values, however bizarre and extreme this particular reaction was, but if I'd been the other boy's father, I'd have hit the roof. The preacher excused what he did to the friend's shirt by saying that the kid had it coming because he brought the offending object into his home.

Say what??

It would have been reasonable for him to have asked the boy to take the shirt out of his home and not to wear it when he came to visit, or even to have called the boy's parents about it, if it bothered him that much. However, he had no business in destroying the other boy's shirt -- he's not the boy's father and it's none of his business what the other boy wore. If I were the other boy's father, I'd have made him pay to replace the shirt -- and I'd encourage my son not to visit the preacher's home, as it's obvious to me that the man is more than a few bricks shy of a load.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AP Public School Contraceptive Poll Results

In a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press, prompted by a school board in Portland, Maine that voted to let a middle school health center provide students with full contraceptive services, results showed that 67% of parents approve of contraceptives being dispensed by public schools. 37% approved with the proviso that the student has a parent's consent and 30% approve under all circumstances. Another 30% does not approve of school-dispensed birth control.

Parents are almost evenly divided about whether the availability of birth control will prompt teens to become sexually active earlier, with a slight majority of 49% believing that it would not cause earlier intercourse and 46% believing that it would. People are also closely split over whether sex education and birth control are more effective than stressing morality and abstinence, with a 51 to 46 percent ratio in favor of sex education/birth control.

Minorities, older and lower-earning people were likeliest to prefer requiring parental consent, while those favoring no restriction tended to be younger and from cities or suburbs. People who wanted schools to provide no birth control at all were likelier to be white and higher-income earners.

Personally, I think it's a good idea. I think it's up to the school to provide factual information, and it's the parents' role to teach whatever moral beliefs they have on the subject.

It may seem to some that the school is undermining the parents' role by providing birth control, but history has shown us that all the exhortations in the world to be abstinent often lose out under the strength of teenage hormones. To allow teens access to birth control while at the same time telling them they should wait until they're married or at least adults isn't necessarily a mixed message. Rather, it's to say that one thing is their ideal, but we love you enough to give you the means to protect yourself if you choose not to or are unable to live up to our ideal.

Indeed, I'm sure most parents would prefer their teens to take responsibility for their choices, even if it's not the choice they'd want them to make. It would be vastly preferable to them bringing a child into the world years before they're ready to be parents or to go through the heartache of giving a child up for adoption. And anti-abortion parents ought to believe that the responsible use of contraceptives is preferable to their daughter getting an abortion.

As for my son, because he went to middle and high school in a Bible Belt state, I didn't trust the sex ed classes to give him comprehensive information. I made sure that he learned the facts of life as soon as he became a teenager and the likelihood of him becoming sexually active became greater. I showed him how to use a condom and stressed to him that it was up to him to protect himself and not leave it up to his partner; that his partner could either be lackadaisical about it or worse, could manipulate him by getting pregnant on purpose. It apparently worked, because he's nearly 27 and hasn't slipped up yet. My son will become a father only when he is ready, which is how it should be.

And shouldn't that be what it's all about? Sex ed and access to birth control are about giving people the power to decide when and if they are going to become parents; it isn't primarily about morality. Our ethics and morality should predate our initiation into sexual activity, not be defined by it.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dolphins Save a Man's Life

Surfer Todd Endris owes his life to a group of quick-thinking dolphins.

On August 28, while surfing in Monterey, California, Endris was suddenly attacked by a great white shark. The shark attacked him three times, hampered by the surf board Endris was on. But it managed to peel the skin off his back and mangle one of Endris' legs during the repeated attacks, though he was able to fight the shark by kicking it with his other foot.

At this point, a pod of dolphins appeared and surrounded Endris in a protective ring, which caused the shark to break off the attack. The dolphins' protection allowed Endris to get back on his board and to make his way to shore, where first aid was given while waiting for the helicopter which evacuated him to a hospital.

Six weeks later, Endris was well enough to return to surfing, though he is still undergoing physical therapy to repair the muscle damage he endured in the attack.

The behavior of the dolphins is not unusual -- there are countless cases of dolphins acting to protect humans in the water from marine predators, usually sharks. Sharks fear dolphins, which allows the dolphins to effectively help humans.

For some reason, dolphins like humans. They commonly follow ships at sea; hoping for a handout, I'm guessing. I remember my father telling me that one of his favorite activities was to watch the dolphins who followed his aircraft carrier when he was at sea during WWII.

As for me, if I ever go to Florida, the first thing I want to do is to go to one of those places where they let you swim with the dolphins. If any of my readers has done this, I'd like to hear about it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Old vs New Technology

Recently I read an article over at Alternet that addressed the question as to whether digital books and e-books will replace traditional ink-and-paper books.

The author cited the convenience of digitized; that books that fill rooms in traditional book form, can all be reduced to disks and read on computers and PDAs. At present, there is a woefully inadequate inventory of such books, nor is there a device designed just for this purpose that displays digital books to their best advantage.

I have no problem with digital books as an added format, much in the same sense as audio books. I'd hate them to entirely replace traditional books, however. Reading is a sensory experience in addition to being a way to gather information and to be entertained. A sterile file of book disks in no way can compare to browsing a used bookstore with every corner crammed with books, redolent with the slightly musty smell of old print, coffee, and prowling store cats. Nor can it compare to the fresh ink smell of new books and the artistic dust jackets.

At home, the sight of my my many overflowing bookshelves make me feel content and at home, and give every visitor insight into my personality in a way that no disk file ever could.

I think many other people believe likewise and while they will no doubt use this new format, especially when space considerations are at a premium and in work situations, I don't think bibliophiles are ready to part with real books just yet. And traditional books have one big advantage: they are not subject to hard drive failures, corrupted software, power failures, dead batteries, and so on.

When the internet first caught on in the 1990s, I'd thought at the time that traditional newspapers would gradually disappear, just as vinyl records did after the introduction of CDs, and as DVDs inched out VHS tapes. But this hasn't happened. I still see traditional printed newspapers everywhere, even though I usually read my local newspaper online. And I still like to get a printed Sunday paper every now and then -- you can't take a computer into the bathroom with you like a newspaper when you want to spend extended time in there answering the call of nature.

Similarly, when the VCR took off in the late 70s, many people worried that this would be the end of movie theaters. This didn't happen either, mainly because the industry made sure of it by not releasing movies directly to VHS, and delaying the release for a time sufficient for films to make a profit in theaters. Secondly, most people like the experience of going out to the movies. It's a traditional date activity, most movies are seen to their best advantage on a big screen, and there's nothing quite like popcorn from the movies. Movie theaters do as much business as they did before the VCR, DVD, and so on, and will likely continue to do so.

One technology where early predictions were wrong was that of TV. Many people in the late 40s and early 50s thought television was a gimmick; a passing fancy whose novelty would soon wear off. Obviously such naysayers were dead wrong on that one, There were others who predicted that TV would mean the death of radio, and were equally as wrong. Radio changed, but it didn't die; it adapted.

To return to the original subject, ink-and-paper books may one day be overshadowed by digital books, but I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime. At least I hope not.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Weird Dreams

I've been having a lot of wild dreams lately, so I thought I'd share some with you.

In one dream, I was in a mall somewhere, and I saw a woman I'd not seen in a long time in a corridor leading to a fast food restaurant. I was just leaving a store and I hurried to catch her. She didn't see me, and left the restaurant heading away from me toward an escalator. When I get to the escalator, I stepped on without looking and discovered that it wasn't an escalator, but a moving slide. I fell and the conveyor took me down. I went on and on and had to keep my head down because it got smaller and narrower. I then realized it was some kind of luggage chute, like at the airport.

I had that dream about a week ago, and this is all I remember about it.

In another dream, I'm in bed with a lover late at night. We are in an upstairs bedroom in her family's home and she is in her late 20s. I'd entered from the back entrance, so I'd thought no one knew I was there.

We are awakened to loud voices out in the hallway, then I heard loud banging on the door. I heard her brother say he was going to kill me. I slipped out the window and down the trellis and hauled ass out of there.

That was also several days ago and that's all I remember of that one.

Last night, I dreamed that an old coworker invited me out to have pizza at a new restaurant. She pulled up to my house in a minivan, then asked me to drive, as she was tired. We drove there and she directed me to the back of the store, which was situated at the top of a hill, out in the country.

I pulled up at the back, taking a winding road to get there. She hopped out, telling me to wait in the van; that she'd ordered the pizza for pick-up. As I waited, the van started rolling backward by itself, heading down the hill, rapidly picking up speed. I hit the brakes, but nothing happened. I hit them frantically again, and they flipped up and fell apart.

The van ended up in a swamp at the bottom of the hill, and I was not hurt. Later, I went home and watched the news and found out my friend had been arrested for setting this up and attempting to kill me. They interviewed another former coworker on the news and she said, "That man needed killing".

Weird dreams, huh?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

November Odds and Ends

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a new winter bathrobe -- I had to order it because they didn't have the color I wanted in stock at the store. 3 guesses as to which color I chose. It finally showed up yesterday, and not a moment too soon, either.

Summer has finally packed its bags and left town. Last night dipped into the 20s and tonight is supposed to do the same. I wore the new robe for the first time last night and it did the job -- I was nice and toasty. It's thick enough and sufficiently long that I'll be warm, even if I'm naked underneath.

In the Odd News section, Yahoo noted that an Illinois middle-schooler was given two days of detention for hugging two friends goodbye for the weekend,

School officials defended the detention by citing the school handbook: "Displays of affection should not occur on the school campus at any time. It is in poor taste, reflects poor judgment, and brings discredit to the school and to the persons involved."

Say what? The girl wasn't humping her boyfriend in the halls -- she was showing affection for two platonic friends. I suppose the school would have found it in better taste if she'd given them each the finger instead.

Zero tolerance policies don't allow for the exercise of common sense and are worse than useless, in my opinion.

While browsing the Yahoo news page, I also came upon an article about relationships with the title; "Does a Wandering Eye Mean a Wandering Heart?" This was an article that discussed whether men who look at and note the attractiveness of women other than their wife/partner will take the next step and pursue the ones they found attractive.

My first thought was to rename the article to make it more blunt and to the point: "Does a Wandering Eye Mean a Wandering Cock?". After all, any wandering would be about sex, and not necessarily about love. A man who would wander would not necessarily waver in his love for his wife; it would be all about lust.

Of course, in my own instance, it wouldn't be the looking that would prompt the wandering. I'm already pre-disposed to wandering, so I could have been born a blind man and I'd still be tomcatting. And, of course, it wouldn't be practical for me to pursue every woman I find attractive. There would be enough hours in the day if I did.

Naturally, the author didn't focus on men like me; he focused on the ones who don't wander. He made the point that men who are committed to being monogamous can look and appreciate, without having to follow through; that men are perfectly capable of "window-shopping", but keeping their "wallets" in their pockets.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Evangelical Scholar Rethinks Divorce

It seems as if some conservative evangelical Christians may be coming to the view that one cannot always take the Bible literally, at face value. It seems as if some conservative evangelicals are reconsidering what it meant by the Bible passages concerning divorce.

Last month, Christianity Today featured an article, "When to Separate What God has Joined: A Closer Reading on the Bible on Divorce." In this article, the author, David Instone-Brewer, focuses on the two Bible passages that the most extremely conservative of Christians still use today as a scriptural justification to ban divorce.

In Matthew, the Pharisees ask Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?", to which Jesus is credited as having responded, "Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, commits adultery." In First Corinthians, Paul later asserted that a Christian is no longer bound to a non-Christian spouse who abandons them.

Instone-Brewer, puts forth the idea that Jesus' questioners were not asking him whether there was any cause at all for divorce, but whether he supported something called "any-cause" divorce, a term a little bit like "no-fault" that allowed husbands to divorce wives for any reason at all. He further asserted that Jesus' "no" was a response to the no-fault idea; that his "except for sexual indecency" condition was not the sole exemption from a blanket prohibition, but merely his reiteration of one of several divorce conditions in the Old Testament. Instone-Brewer gave four grounds for divorce he found affirmed in both Testaments: adultery, emotional and sexual neglect, abandonment (by anyone) and abuse.

Indeed, to allow for adultery and not physical abuse would be inhumane: how could a loving God forbid divorce, even by omission, in cases of wife-beating, or of abandonment by a Christian spouse?

Catholicism bans divorce entirely, and extreme fundamentalist Protestants adhered to a literal interpretation of scripture. As a case in point, it was common as recently as 30 years ago for fundamentalist pastors to counsel battered women to return home to their abusive husbands and to tell them to be more submissive so that he'd not have cause to beat them. Some slightly more "enlightened' fundamentalists would allow for divorce in extreme cases, but would mandate that the divorced person not ever remarry.

Instone-Brewer's article indicates that even the most hidebound denominations can eventually accept reality and to finally take a humane approach and use some common sense in reponse to social issues in today's society.

And statistics indicate that most fundamentalists ignore the traditional teachings, anyway:
polls released by the Barna Research Group in 2001, showed that the divorce rate for evangelicals has been as high or higher than the national average.

This isn't the first time, they've budged and given in to reality. Christians once believed in the divine right of kings, but that went by the wayside a couple of centuries ago. Similarly, as recently as the middle sixties, fundamentalists still asserted that racial segregation was God's plan and spoke out against "interracial" marriage -- read some of Jerry Falwell's old sermons from that era if you don't believe me -- even though more enlightened Christians began realizing that racism was wrong as early as the 18th century;.

And if Christianity is to survive as a dynamic faith and not die of obdurate "static-ness", they'll do so again. The most likely issues where they'll likely eventually give in to common sense are the ideas of women's equality in marriage and to accept same-sex marriage.

We can only hope.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Premarital or Nonmarital?

The other day, I was browsing a website where the topic was premarital sex. I won't get into the pros and cons of it, as I'm sure you know exactly my views on the topic.

Rather, my focus is on the word "premarital" itself. As I read the article, I kept thinking that the word premarital has kind of a dated ring to it; that it connotes a bias and does not adequately describe all the types of sex that occur outside of matrimony.

"Premarital" means "before marriage", and implies sex that one is having with the person they will later marry. It also has a broader view for most people, referring to any sex a person has before marriage, including the partners one does not later marry.

There is "extramarital" sex to mean adultery, but most people refer to any sex engaged in by any category of "unmarried" people as "premarital".

It doesn't take into account the sex lives of people who never marry or those who are divorced or widowed. For those who do not believe in "premarital" sex, what would they expect people who don't care to marry do? Remain martyred perpetual virgins? Or get married just so they can have sex? That would be one of the poorest reasons for getting married that I can think of.

With widowed or divorced people, no one refers to "post-marital" sex. Do they expect such people to return to square one and do the "no sex until marriage" thing with any new relationships, as if they are teenage virgins again? I mean, that horse has long ago gotten out of the barn, so what's the point in pretending?

I think a better umbrella term to cover all types of sex that occur outside of marriage would be "non-marital", as it would cover all the bases for those not currently married.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence: Book Review

I recently finished an interesting book: "Blasphemy:How the Religious Right is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence" by Alan Dershowitz. That is, he refutes, point by point, attempts by Christian fundamentalists to rewrite the history of our nation's founding by claiming that the Founding Fathers were all orthodox Christians who never intended the separation of church and state, but rather founded the USA as a "Christian Nation".

This short book contains three long chapters. The first chapter examines the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, focusing on the decidedly not Christian Thomas Jefferson, quoting extensively from his writings. The views of John Adams, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and others are also covered in lesser detail.

The first chapter also looks at the God-language that was used by the Founders though the lens of Deism, which many of the Founding Fathers, including Jefferson, believed in. Dershowitz shows that the "Nature's God" that is referred to is not the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, but rather, a "Blind Watchmaker" Creator, who created the universe then stepped back and let nature take its course. He goes into more detail as to how Deism and Universalism differs from today's conservative evangelical Christianity.

The second chapter covers the Religious Right's strategy for making the Founding Fathers over in their image and their plans to turn the US into a theocracy. He asserts that their plan is essentially two-fold. The first step would be a Trojan horse: to lower the wall of separation between church and state enough to allow non-threatening "generic" religion -- God, nonsectarian prayer, multiple religious images into the government sphere. The next step would be to then insist that Christianity is America's only "true" religion, as our nation was, in their view, founded by Christian on Christian principles. This would effectively make adherents of other religions be second class citizens, with atheists and agnostics being officially condemned as immoral, and would no doubt bring back the legality of having religious tests in order to hold elected office.

The third chapter, "What Are the 'Laws of Nature' and 'Nature's God'?", is the most fascinating in the book, in my opinion. In this chapter, Dershowitz compares the concept of "natural laws" vs positive legal enactments. He shows the logical fallacies in the notion of natural law, yet concedes that it is a useful legal fiction that give the legal basis on which to oppose or resist unjust laws that have been properly enacted.

Dershowitz shows that human knowledge, from which laws flow, comes from three main sources: discovery, invention, and revelation. Positive law is based on invention, which is an imperfect thing and is subject to amendment and improvement as times and circumstances change. Natural law, on the other hand is based on discovery and/or divine revelation. It is fully developed and flawless and is just waiting for humans to discover/discern it, then to live from thence forward by its unchanging principles.

But the sticking point in "natural law" is the fact that nature itself is morally neutral. Dershowitz quotes Robert Ingersoll: "In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences." Anatole France concurred: "Nature, in its indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil".

Dershowitz asserts: "Morality evolves with experience, and nature is part of that experience, but not the only part. In constructing a moral code, one should not ignore the varieties of human nature, but the diverse components of nature cannot be translated directly into morality. The complex relationship between the is of nature and the ought of morality must be mediated by human experience".

Rather than the laws of nature or God's revealed word, Dershowitz believes that source of higher morality is human experience -- trial and error. "We are at our best when we recognize our past mistakes and try build a better system of morality to avoid repetition of those mistakes. Rights come from wrongs!" He goes on to say, "Our present system of rights is not based on Nature or God, but rather on a recognition of our past wrongs and a desire not to repeat them -- or do worse".

I give this one five stars and it has earned a permanent place in my library

Friday, November 2, 2007

Quotes to Think About

I'm not a vegetarian because I love animals. I'm a vegetarian because I hate plants.
— A. Whitney Brown

Die, plants, die!

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
— George Bernard Shaw

It's all in how you look at it.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
— Albert Camus

Autumn beats spring because the leaves come multicolored then, instead of just in green.

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.
— Isaac Newton

Argue the point, don't insult the person

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
— Plato

Everyone has their crosses to bear; no one is perfect

In Mexico we have a word for sushi: Bait.
— Jose Simon

Works for me!

I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
— Anna Quindlen

I wholeheartedly agree.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
- William Butler Yeats

Education isn't an end; it's a process. The more you know, the more you should want to learn.

Efficiency is intelligent laziness.
--David Dunham

Work smarter, not harder

The only normal people are the
ones you don't know very well.
--Joe Ancis

Everyone has their own peculiar quirks.

Cats know how to obtain
food without labor, shelter
without confinement, and
love without penalties.
--W.L. George

I think I want to be a cat in my next life!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Parents Then and Now

When I was out last night, while driving through a residential neighborhood clogged with minivans and SUVs driving kids door-to-door for trick or treating, I was reminded of how the average philosophy of parenting has changed over the years.

The annual Halloween minivan parade is a perfect illustration of how the average parenting style now differs from that when I was growing up. Back when I was a kid during the sixties, only very small children were accompanied by their parents to go trick or treating. And they WALKED the neighborhood; there was none of this driving door-to-door crap. School-age kids went out on their own in groups, with their parents staying home to hand out candy to other kids. Parents warned kids not to eat fruit or candy not in the original packaging until it was checked and to watch out for cars, but that's about it.

Simply put, parents back then, for the most part, didn't hover; they didn't micromanage every moment of their children's days. They didn't overthink things, nor worry overmuch about every little thing that could possibly go wrong, however improbable. They didn't wrap their kids up in the bubble wrap of overprotection; understanding that bumps, bruises, and hurt feelings were all part of the growing up process that helped a person to mature. Parents back then had a more laid-back approach to parenting, relying more heavily on simple good common sense. The modern phenomenon of "Helicopter Parents" was a rarity then -- such parents that did exist then were viewed as neurotic and badly in need of a life.

There are those today who lament the decline of families with a stay-at-home mother, who believe that going to a daycare center is in every way inferior to being at home with Mom. But what many of these people either don't realize or don't remember is that despite the fact that most of our mothers didn't work outside the home in those days, they didn't exactly devote their entire days engaged in quality learning activities with their kids, either.

Stay at home mothering back then was primarily quantity time, not quality time. Mothers were there if we needed them, but, for the most part, kids and moms each did their own thing. While kids played on their own, either at home or roaming unsupervised through the neighborhood, mothers typically did housework, cooked, talked on the phone, visited with friends, worked in the yard, went shopping, did crafts, watched TV, and drove us to school activities, and the like.

Our parents were mainly from the WWII, "Greatest Generation", most of whom had been raised with a large dose of common sense themselves. The fifties and sixties were a time of wide economic prosperity in the US, and the governing attitude back then was largely "Let the Good Times Roll".

For the most part, we had life much easier than our parents did as kids -- and I think we had it better than a lot of kids do today. We were given the time and space to just be kids and to learn to improvise and think on our feet, as our parents did not rush in to do things for us. We learned responsibility because we tried things on our own and we were allowed to fail and learn from the consequences of our mistakes, both in play and in school.

I feel quite fortunate to have grown up when I did.