"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Monday, December 31, 2012

O Is For.......Open Minded

I've been waiting for "O" to come around for quite a while. Finally, my chance to rant!!! My son asked me a while ago if there were any words I hated so much that I would delete them from our language. I think "open minded" is actually two words, more of a phrase, but I hate it with a rare and burning passion. I don't dislike the concept, the definition of "open minded," one bit. What I really hate is the way it gets used by the people who bandy it about, particularly those who use it to describe themselves.

Open mindedness should mean an openness to new ideas, to opinions different from your own, a knowledge that wisdom begins with knowing how little one actually knows. There are some people who actually are open minded, by that definition, and I'm lucky to have a few as very close friends. This isn't about you. The world could use more people who genuinely seek knowledge. These people almost never use the term, though, and I don't think I've ever heard one of these friends of mine use it to describe him/herself.

The people who do use it don't mean that at all. What they mean by open minded is people who agree with them. Vary from their chosen point of view (which tends toward the "progressive" more often than not and not rarely includes one or more bizarre theories about such things as vaccinations or fluoride in the water or the Illuminati) ) and you better look out. The very worst thing you can do socially is to publicly disagree with people who say they are open minded. If you do, they will assume you are ignorant, bigoted, overly ideological or just plain stupid. See, these folks consider themselves to be open minded. Therefore, the opinions they hold are the result of their open minded consideration of all the facts and therefore are the only valid opinions one could possibly hold. They refuse to accept that they may not have all the facts, or may have tidbits of information that aren't really factual. Their minds are not open to that idea. So, if you disagree, you are, by their logic, either not privy to all the facts (ignorant), purposefully ignoring the facts that led them to their conclusion (bigoted or ideological) or mentally unable to process the facts you do have in an intelligent manner (stupid.) Their minds are completely closed to the possibility that anyone could possibly look at the same facts and come to a fair, intelligent opinion that differs from theirs. It is senseless to argue with these people, it's best to just agree with them. Don't worry, it'll never occur to them you are being condescending. They will gladly take your agreement as proof they are right and have chosen well the people they hang with.

On the other hand, there are those who are so open minded that their brains fell out. Open minded doesn't mean believing everything you hear. It means considering it. Some things, after consideration, are pure bullshit.  Some things are wrong. Some things are hurtful or mean or evil. Being open minded shouldn't be an excuse to be intellectually lazy. That makes me think of another term, one that just happens to start with a "P"......

Saturday, December 29, 2012

N Is For.....News

I'm a news junky. It's not just what you'd normally consider "news" either. I'm very curious -- about things, places, events, people. If I care about something, be it a national news story, an academic question, a political debate or even just whether or not a friend had a fun Christmas, I won't stop asking until I get answers. I'm persistent.....or stubborn....or annoying, I suppose it depends on your perspective. I love having LOTS of sources of news, but I don't go in for the usual ones. I don't regularly watch any national newscasts on TV, I don't have a subscription to Wilmington's local daily, I don't get Time or any other news weekly. I listen to NPR every bit as much as I listen to Rush Limbaugh. I read quite few political and news blogs pretty regularly, both right wing and left. I have 735 "liked" pages on Facebook. I love Facebook as a news source, not because everything is accurate, because it most certainly is not (especially the re-posted and linked things from friends and relatives), but because it opens up the door to a huge variety of sources. As long as I know where my news is coming from, it's useful to me. The trick is to take it all in, consider all the sources, and noodle out the truth best you can from that. It isn't perfect and it takes patience and some intelligence, but it's the way of things now.

The mass media, as we were taught it functioned when we were children, is dead.

It took reading a friend's blog about the news and Facebook posts during the day of the Sandy Hook shootings to bring that fact home. Jen wrote about all the falsehoods reported and then spread all around Facebook during the day of the shootings. They weren't malicious falsehoods, not purposeful untruths, but they were certainly hurtful to some of the people involved. They were simply the result of trying to be FIRST rather than ACCURATE. That's what our media has become. It's driven by us and our need to have all the news immediately, but just the same, that's where they are. Reporters print or broadcast anything they hear as soon as they hear it. Then  it gets picked up and spread around social media until the next "first news" comes along to contradict it. What gets me is that this hasn't made many of the consumers of news as wary as they should be. Jen is an exception. Most people, even some very smart and savvy ones, eat up and spit out anything coming from the news media. This is foolish.

When I started college, way back in the pre-internet dark ages of 1989, the New York Times was the Gold Standard of American journalism. By the time I graduated, in 1993, it was becoming a joke. By the turn of the new millennium, the Old Grey Lady was meaningless. She'd been exposed knowingly printing falsehoods, not even to be first, but simply because she was lazy and politically motivated. All of the national mainstream media followed suit. The local press is a bit better, it is closer to its consumers and a bit more accountable, but still it is falling victim to the same degradation. Our local daily, the Star News, ran a whole big front of the feature section story about a friend of mine's neighbor's successful career as a professional wave runner rider. It was a great story, with pictures and exciting anecdotes, except for one thing. It was entirely fabricated by the neighbor. One or two phone calls would have exposed that, but the reporter didn't use one source outside of the supposed wave riding champ. That would have gotten you thrown out of my journalism school, but it is perfectly fine in today's journalistic world. Now, we see local politicians calling news outlets with stories and having them aired or printed as Gospel truth, often without one attribution. We see the web sites of news organizations play host to totally unmoderated "mesage boards" or comments sections that become grand stands for lunatics.

It's a new world, for better or for worse. There's nothing I can do about it, and that is driving ME insane. The local news outlets are bumbling along, faithfully printing and airing anything they hear without the first attempt to verify it. The national news outlets have all become partisan, making the self-proclaimed partisan radio shows and news casts and magazines and blogs into the most trustworthy. I'm hopeful  my son's generation will deal with this better than my own. I know he is not one to believe everything he reads or sees or hears. I don't know if it's just him, though, the kid has always been a skeptic and an independent thinker. It is the one thing I am most proud of in him. If he is representative of the future, we'll be ok. I pray he is.

Monday, December 24, 2012

M Is For....... Merry Christmas

Yep, that's it. Just have a really cool yule and enjoy all your blessings. Love all and let yourself be loved in return.

That is all :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

L is for....Letting it out

I've been trying to write things on my other, happier blog and just can't. I figure maybe letting it out here will help. It's "safe" here as I have only one follower and I doubt she ever looks, it's so rarely I post and then very intermittently. These shootings in Newtown are so raw, so primal-sad, so completely un-understandable, I can't imagine anything I say failing to piss someone off somewhere as I try to work out my own thoughts. But if I am going to go on, I need to let it out. So here it goes, rambling though it be.

I'm thinking about what it means to share others' grief, or frustration, or anger, or any negative emotion. Sharing happiness is a given, it's universally accepted and expected. No one feels violated or invaded personally when another, even a stranger, shares their joy. We WANT it to spread around. But the negative emotions are different, on both sides. Sometimes we who grieve or enter a dark time in our lives want to hold that to ourselves. I don't know why. Part of it is surely the instinct to not hurt our friends, to not let our pain take away their happy. But pain is also more personal then joy, more private. To feel it is to admit some weakness, some vulnerability, and we are often loathe to do that, even to our closest friends and family. Just as the wisest one is the one who knows how much he fails to understand, the strongest ones are those who can admit they are weak. The stoic is, in my opinion, too weak to face the reality of his human emotions, or at least too weak to allow others to see. Pain and grief are sometimes strangely important to us. Even though they are negative, they are OURS and in dark times we need to feel a connection to our deeper self. Maybe pain gives us that, and it's strongest when we are quietest about it. But what to do when others are in pain? I try to find some common ground, some basis of understanding, but in doing so I fear others see me as minimizing their personal feelings by making them less than unique. I'm a bad example, I think. I'm about as clumsy as a person can get, in word and deed and timing and everything else. If a wrong thing can be said at a wrong time to a wrong person, I'm there saying it. If there's one subject a friend is sensitive about, I'm there cracking jokes to them about it. I chase all my friends away that way, some forever, the best only for a while, but still. I'm torn between silence that could be taken as uncaring or a failure to recognize a need and saying too much of the wrong thing. I can't find the happy middle. It sucks.

So, if it's so hard to understand what to do when our friends hurt, what do we do when it's strangers? When something like Newtown happens, the whole country, the whole world feels it. What must that do to the actual families that lost kids? To be almost forced to share the most intimate thing that has or will ever happen to you with millions of strangers must be surreal to say the least. Does it help or hurt? I don't know. Should we send them things -- cards, emails, facebook posts -- or does that just remind them for months and months of what happened. We feel great personal sadness and worry even though our own children are in no more or less danger than they were a month ago. We borrow their pain, or a part of it, to express the fear that lives in every parent's heart every day, all day. Is that a good thing? Or is it selfish? Is that making us all one community of parents? Or is that capitalizing on the very real and concrete misery of strangers? We feel, as parents, for any kids, but how far does that, how far should that go? We hug our children more and tighter, we treasure every second more fully, and that's a good thing. We take this as a chance to think about the unthinkable, to remember friends and family who lost children, and that's a good thing, too.

It's almost easier to dwell on the horrible possibilities when it's strangers bringing it up. When it's a close friend or family, we can tend to hide from the grief, to just not know what to do. I know I did when my sister lost her son right before Christmas about 8 years ago. See, I can't even tell you what year Angel died. I feel terrible about that. I was far away and didn't go home. I'll pay for that til I die, inside myself. No one has made me feel bad, it was a miscarriage so the social norms are very fuzzy, but I won't ever forgive myself. Maybe that's why I always err on overdoing the trying to care when  I think a friend is in need. Trying to not repeat past mistakes, to be stronger than I was. It doesn't work. But what else to do?

That's the lingering question from Newtown as well, what else to do? What do we take away? What do we learn? Do we crack down on guns? Do we militarize our schools? Do we re-open the mental hospitals and fill them with children like Adam? Do we leave them at home and trust them or a parent to drug them into submission every day for the rest of their lives? Can we prevent Adams from occurring by parenting differently?  By testing during pregnancy? Is that moral? What rights does Adam have? Is a sane mind required to take hold of rights our Declaration says emphatically are bestowed by God? Were we witnessing Evil at work? Were we witnessing mental illness at work? Are those really two different things? What is evil? What is mental illness if there is no cure? I've watched with fascination as the dividing line has been drawn on facebook between those who seek solace in faith and those who seek solace in science. The faith crowd cries "evil" and the science crowd derides them. The science crowd seeks comfort in logical, medical answers, and the faith crowd derides them. I can't find a home in either camp, surprise surprise. I believe in Evil. I refused to tell my son there were no such things as monsters because I believe it to be a lie. I put my faith in logic and reason as well, and believe science will hold the answer to all mysteries sooner or later. I think the two "sides" are inevitably going to come closer as we grow wiser. This debate is an example. A mental illness that allows a child to gun down children may be a chemical imbalance. Or it may not. It may not be something we can "fix." I think the way forward is for the faith crowd to support an endless effort to find the medical or psychiatric "fix" and for the science crowd to accept that there may not be one. There are constants in the universe, like the speed of light. Perhaps evil is one of them.

Or not. I don't know, and I'm ok with that. I'm trying to move forward doing the best i can. I cry when i feel like crying, and I laugh when I feel like laughing. I will listen to all of the debate about "what do we do" and I'll think and feel and reflect before I decide, if I ever do. I'll treasure my son and all the children in my life. I'll stumble and bumble along trying to watch out for my friends as they navigate rough times. Sometimes I'll be right, often I'll be wrong. But all I can do is try, and try I will.

Friday, November 9, 2012

K Is For.....Kinetics

Sir Isaac Newton taught us that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest and bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, at constant direction and speed, unless acted upon by an outside force. That dynamic, was on full display during this past election. The one thing we can say for sure this election was most surely NOT about is change. Not only was the incumbent president returned to office, but congress retained its make-up almost exactly. We have a Democrat in the White House, a Senate just barely in Democrat control and a House securely in the hands of Republicans, exactly as we did for the last two years. This was a continuation of the status quo, but was it a vote in favor or is something else happening?

The other stand out fact about this election is that it was pretty much the Great "Meh" Election of 2012. As ubiquitous as the Facebook posts and phone calls and media reporting was, that didn't translate into voter participation. The tallies aren't complete, but it's safe to say conservatively that we had 10 million fewer voters than four years ago. We are likely to find we had fewer voters than in 2004. That's not just a smaller percentage of people voting, that's raw voter numbers. The population has grown by 19 million in the last eight years and yet we had barely as many people vote, if as many at all. We had a huge jump in the percentage of the electorate that chose to sit the election out, but why?

One possibility is that people are happy and satisfied with the state of the nation and their own lives. But if they were all that happy, I'd think they would want to turn out to ensure the continuation of the status quo by voting in all the incumbents, and they didn't. Even those who won did so with fewer votes. Many people who voted for Obama in 2008 chose to not do so this year, for example, so I'm not thinking that's the reason.

Another possibility is laziness and apathy. A friend of mine was bemoaning the number of young people in her circle that didn't even register because "they just aren't into politics." I don't think that feeling is at all limited to 20-somethings. It's a sad thing, as I commiserated with my friend, but this is actually what I hope to be the reason for the lack of participation in this year's election. I hope laziness is the problem, that a lot of bodies at rest are simply not being acted upon by sufficient outside forces to start moving, because that makes the solution simple, if not easy. Those of us who do care, wherever we lie on the political spectrum, can get those balls rolling by exerting some force on them in the form of discussion and argument and example. Like I said, not easy, but simple. I have an idea that I think will work and it conveniently starts with the letter "L." Guess what the next blog post is.....

The third possibility I see is the scary one. I am hoping the lack of participation is not due to a conscious or unconscious rejection of the efficacy of representative government itself. If people are not happy and not lazy but don't believe they hold the power to effect change at the ballot box, they will seek other means eventually. I am trying to hold faith that we haven't gotten close to that point yet, and I'm going to do all I personally can to see we never do.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

J Is For..........Joe Biden

I love this guy. I just can't help it, I truly find him totally endearing. I wouldn't ever want him to ascend to the presidency, but I wish there were a way to keep him Vice President For Life. He's hilarious both when he is trying to be and when he's not. That alone sets him apart - he has a sense of humor about himself and everyone around him. He is famous for his "gaffes," which I think are just Joe being Joe. The man has no filter, what comes into his head ends up coming out his mouth, and happily for us his mouth is often in front of a microphone.

Joe is not a bumbling idiot, though. I don't think he's terribly bright, but I do think he is a very gifted politician. He has been in politics his entire adult life, holding elected office despite all the fabulous gaffes. I can think of no other person, living or dead, who could get himself chosen as running mate by a man he said was successful only because he was an "articulate and clean black man." In our day and age, that is about as racist a statement as you can make and not be publicly drawn and quartered. But Joe just smiles and moves on and everyone laughs it off. Same as his remark about every gas station being owned by an Indian person. Or his homage to what wonderful things a bunch of college cheerleaders could do "on hard wood." Sure, a lot of his lee way comes from simply being a liberal democrat, but that's not all of it. He has a certain something that makes it hard to dislike him, no matter what he says.

I think with Joe we get what and who he is. He can talk to a roomful of donors, who each paid more than the cost of my last two cars combined to attend, about how evil and terrible and dangerous to the nation rich people are. And he can do it without the slightest tinge of irony because he really believes what he is saying and because he isn't bright enough to get the irony. He survives as a politician because he doesn't ever "play the politician", he just IS one, through and through. I'm not saying he's honest, he isn't and his well documented plagiarisms prove it to all who care to know, but he is REAL. I think there's a difference.

Tonight Joe will face Paul Ryan in a debate. I can't wait to watch, just to see what Joe says. I think he'll wipe the floor with Ryan. Ryan has a much better grasp on reality and is much more intelligent than Joe. But this won't be like the last presidential debate. On that night we saw what happens when a very accomplished and practiced professional business executive debates a mediocre politician. It had little to do with the "issues" or politics, I believe. I think a left leaning businessman like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would have given the same drubbing to a so-so right leaning career politician, like say John McCain  for instance. Tonight will be very different in that it will feature a true political debate between two politicians, and Joe Biden will make Paul Ryan look as amateur as Romney made Obama look a week ago.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Extra, Cheating Bonus "I" Post

I is also for Irony

I am growing more and more annoyed at all the political posts on Facebook. My annoyance may be turning to amusement, though after seeing something on my friend's newsfeed that defines irony. It wasn't a post I disagree with at all, in fact I am wholeheartedly 100% behind the poster in his sentiment.

This man was angry that a politician, I don't know who or what office he holds and it doesn't matter, was offering up a "prayer" for the death of our president. Ok, this is terrible and it needs to stop. First off, the Presidency itself deserves respect no matter who holds the office. Second, the president, no matter if he is Barack Obama or George W. Bush (who suffered many more vocal death threats than out current president, by the way, including an entire off-Broadway show), is a human being with children and a family and hopes and dreams and faults and everything else we all struggle through life with. So, yes, he was right, wishing death on a politician, or anyone else for that matter, is bad, very bad.

The irony? This person was using a Guy Fawkes mask for his profile picture.

Good grief. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

I is for.....Independent

I know, in North Carolina there are no "Independents." They are called "unaffiliated" here. It amounts to the same thing and "U is for....." is a long ways off and I wanted to get this off my chest. Actually, now that I think about it, "unaffiliated" does a pretty good job of explaining my desire to leave the Republican Party. From the closest local level to the highest national level, there are policies and individuals that I just simply have no desire to be affiliated with any longer. I've not "turned to the dark side" as my mother asked, though. The locals who run the Democratic Party are just as obnoxious, and much more corrupt, than the local Republicans and the national Democrat platform is largely in complete opposition to the "just leave us alone" politics I support. So, a few weeks ago, I resigned my seat on the Brunswick County Republican Party Executive Committee and went to the county board of elections office and changed my party to "unaffiliated."

It wasn't easy and it wasn't particularly fun and afterwards I felt the strangest combination of relief and guilt. I joined the local apparatus of the Republicans to help keep John Kerry out of the White House. I wanted to do all I could to keep a man who called my father a baby killer from becoming president. My thoughts on that haven't changed. In fact, I was sickened by Kerry being given a speaking role at the DNC Convention last week and appalled by the applause he received from folks who probably consider themselves "supporters of the troops." I took over as a precinct chairman after a friend who held that position was unable to continue while she fought, and eventually was overcome by, cancer. Promises to dying friends aren't something one breaks easily, and I pray she is looking down and understanding that I just couldn't carry on in that role anymore, but I still think I failed her memory.

I feel I let her down for two reasons. First, I was unable to find a replacement whom I could trust to push the party in the right direction. Second, I left the party headed in a direction I am not at all pleased with. I don't regret a minute I spent on that board. Though it seems now to have been for naught, at least I tried. The vast majority of people love to criticize and whine and moan about politics, but never try to lift a finger to change anything beyond voting once every year or so, if that. I am proud that I tried and sometimes succeeded in making things better. I helped elect some good people, and helped prepare some of those good people to run. I saw the local party move beyond a local yokel old boys and girls club into a huge and relatively diverse group. The party holds the power in this county now, for better or worse. The Democrats that ran the place for decades are disgraced and sometimes on parole. My fear is that the new crop of elected Republican officials learned nothing from them and is sliding down the same slippery slope. Power does indeed corrupt, and I have seen it happen.

The county exec committee itself is changing as well. This election has brought out a level of anger and meanness that I've not experienced before. I entered the party, admittedly, as a "negative campaigner." I was against John Kerry much more than I was for George Bush. But while I have no respect for Kerry and think he is totally unfit to serve our country as an elected representative, I don't hate the man. I don't think he would have destroyed the country. I don't think those who supported him are evil or stupid. This election is different. There was getting to be a feeling of almost desperation in the atmosphere at those exec committee meetings that made me very sad. I watched as the most angry voices in the room drowned out the more optimistic ones. I liked the Republican party because it was the positive one, the one that said we were all capable of greatness if allowed to pursue our dreams, the one that believed nothing and no one could kill the spirit that made America the greatest place on Earth. I saw that slipping away to be replaced by fear and anger. I tried to slow it down or stop it, I really did, but I failed. I just don't know what else I could have done. I hate failing, but there you are.

So where does that leave me? Here is where the feeling of relief comes in. It leaves me independent. I have a friend running as a Republican for our county commission and I think he'll be different so he has my vote and whatever help I can lend him. I haven't become cynical, at least not completely so. I will wholeheartedly support my Republican state house member and state senator. Both men have cast votes I disagree with, but both vote their conscious and are not afraid to argue their point of view in an intelligent and respectful way to anyone who asks. Both are good men and I wish everyone could be so lucky to be so represented. The Democrats are running a complete nobody for governor to replace a Democrat that even the Democrats will admit is in waaaayyyyyy over her head, so I'll happily vote for the GOP there as well. Our US House delegate is technically a member of the Democrat party, but votes as a Republican and his opponent is a sleazebag, so there's a lever pulled for the Dems. I've never voted straight party ticket in my life, so none of that is unusual.

The big one causes me more trouble. The presidential election has everyone in a tizzy and I feel like an outcast because I just don't care. The seats I referenced above will affect the lives of me and my family billions of times more powerfully than the president. It's ironic that the one seat everyone fights over the most matters the least in our day-to-day lives. Our country has thrived and struggled under far left wing Democrats and far right wing Republicans. We boomed under Reagan and under Clinton. We busted under Carter and under Bush. We were led into war more often by the left than by the right, and the last two liberal ex-flower children of the sixties to occupy the commander in chief's seat have used our military power in wholly unconstitutional ways to kill innocent people. That won't stop no matter who wins, it's that power corrupting thing again. Our economy is stalled, not dead, and it will rebound in time no matter what the outcome of this election. Both candidates will keep in place a failed tax code and both will continue to spend money we don't have on programs our founders forbade the federal government to create. Social Security will continue to be a paltry help to those who truly need it funded by those in my generation with no hope of ever reaping it's benefits in their own retirement. Healthcare will move closer to becoming the responsibility of the federal government. The "Affordable Care Act" was pushed through congress by the Democrat nominee, but is based almost entirely on a program created by his Republican opponent. Both nominees will continue the Patriot Act, it gives the government too much power for either to willingly give it up. Religion will continue to be used as a political football with the left attempting to banish it from public life and the right attempting to force it into every meeting and school and gathering, both of which are expressly and clearly forbidden by the First Amendment (not that anyone reads the constitution anymore). Both parties will force government into the most private of personal areas. Whether the question is who can be married or what light bulb you buy, the federal government has no legal right to weigh in and neither candidate respects that. One side wants to make contraception harder to come by and another wants the government to pay for it. Both sides are completely and totally dead wrong, and for the same reason; both options give the Leviathan a dangerous amount of control over women and families' reproductive choices.

I guess that's my big problem with both parties.They share a disturbing tendency to want to control my behavior. The right tends to offer proscriptions against things they dislike, which is easy to see and disagree with at least. The left does the same thing, but adds a more subtle approach. They offer to let you do whatever you like in many cases, and even offer to make others pay for it.But that's another form of control, making you dependent on them. The man in the windowless van does not have your best interests at heart just because he's holding out a pile of candy.

I feel like I'm in a train station with people very anxious to go this way or that, and very angry at those traveling in a direction different from their own. There's a lot of yelling and moving and boarding, but no tracks lead where I want to go. Some are closer than others, and those trains look enticing, but I know the farther I ride them, the more they will diverge from my own destination. Is it worth riding a train going even a bit the wrong way because it is easy and offers ready companionship? Is the "affiliation" with people of similar but different goals a good compromise?  I used to think so. I used to think that going somewhere was better than going nowhere. I thought the options were pick a train or stay in the station, vote for the one you disagree with least or sit out and give up your right to chose. I'm beginning to change my mind, though. I don't think I will continue to accept the premise of the two-party system. I think I'm leaving the station all together and setting out the way I chose on foot, alone if need be. There's no tracks, not even a road, but there's a path laid down by John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and others, even non-politicians like Walt Disney (he didn't accept any premises either). It may be overgrown and it may take me a lot of effort to find it and the going will be much slower than the trains steaming off to November 6, 2012. My answer won't be found there. My guy won't win that day because I have no guy. But I think that maybe if I keep at it, maybe I can find a way beyond the lesser of two evils. I owe it to my son to try, it's his future I'm looking for.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

H Is For......Hunger Games

This isn't going to be a literary review. I've only read two of the three books and want to read the whole trilogy a second time, at least, before I try that. It's a lot to wrap your head around. This is not a movie review, either, though I loved the film version and highly recommend it for anyone who has read the first book. The one big failing of the movie, though, may be that it doesn't reach those who have not read the book first. It's an intense story, and that's what I wanted to write about. Is it too intense, too much, for children?

In case you've been living under a rock, the basic premise of the Hunger Games is this. In a far-off future, North America has been devastated by calamities of all sorts. The geography is a bit changed and the politics are radically different. A central Capital holds sway over outlying Districts that supply the Capital with all its needs. Because the Districts once rebelled and were defeated, they now have to offer up two children each every year to go to the Capital and fight to the death in the nationally televised "Hunger Games." Only one of the two dozen children comes out alive; it's a sick progression from Survivor, sort of. The Capital uses the Games to show the Districts that they are all-powerful and rebelling is not a good idea.

Obviously, different children will be ready to read a book about children hunting and killing each other at different ages. We are talking about a horrible premise, and the author, Suzanne Collins, does not sugar coat or pussy foot around with any of the horror. Children in this story die. It's not like Harry Potter. These kids aren't killed in a war started by evil adults. These kids are killing each other very much on purpose. As a parent of a twelve year-old son, I can really see the argument that this is wholly inappropriate material for anyone younger than a late teenager. But I let my son read it and took him to see the movie and I think that in whole, the series is something even kids his age should be encouraged to read. And I'd double down on that opinion if we are talking about a girl. Let me try to explain why I think it's not only ok, but very good for kids to read these very sad and disturbing books.

I love children. I babysat in junior high and high school and as an adult I was the leader of my son's Cub Scout den. I am always wanting to hold a baby and am more than happy on the floor playing Legos or Matchbox cars with the kids while the other adults are sitting around the table talking. I enjoy my friends' kids as much as I enjoy them. I'm lucky to have some very intelligent friends and so am usually around some very intelligent children. My Cub Scout den was full of very bright boys, exceptional maybe. I may have a warped view of children because the ones around me are so bright, but I think often kids are underestimated. That's not to say we should treat children like miniature adults, because they are not, but they are capable of understanding and working through things far beyond what their parents often give them credit for.

In my particular case, I know for sure that my son, at 12, is mature enough to understand what The Hunger Games is trying to show him. He has always been a critical thinker, never taking what he is told at face value. I suppose his questioning of what authority figures tell him is genetic, but the Force runs very strong in this one. One of my proudest moments as a parent came when he was in first or maybe second grade. Of course he has been taught all the environmentalism that is all the rage now, and we are a family of the outdoors and of museums. We visit aquariums and zoos regularly. He has been lucky to have what he has been taught in school balanced with what he has seen. This time he showed us that he really was thinking for himself and using his experience. My wife and I were joking around one evening after I saw her leave something plugged in or turned on after she was done using it. I accused her of killing polar bears. John, our son, heard this and asked what I meant, how was mommy killing polar bears? I told him that some people believed that using too much electricity led to global warming and that the earth warming up would melt the ice caps where the polar bears live and so the polar bears would die. I promise I was not sarcastic in the least, I really wanted to see what he would say. Really, I was hoping for a glimpse into what he had learned in school about global warming, but that's not what I got. John was quiet for a few seconds, then got this really disgusted look on his face and proclaimed, "That's stupid. Polar bears can SWIM." And he wandered back to watch Spongebob. My point here is not that he is an expert in polar bears or global warming, but that he used what he had seen and experienced (we'd been to the zoo a few weeks before and watched the polar bear frolicking in the water for a long time) to critically process what he was being told. And that is where this relates to The Hunger Games.

Many children as young as "tweens" are perfectly able to read a book like Hunger Games without being scarred for life or desensitized to violence. Not all authors could have pulled this off. I give Suzanne Collins huge credit for making the book a lesson in strength and honor and trust and fortitude rather than an exercise in gratuitous violence or sappy love. Hunger Games is a warning, in a couple of ways. It's a warning not to get carried away with the reality TV competitions on one level, but it has a definite political warning as well. The children central to the story know they are being manipulated by a government for political propaganda purposes, and they try to balance their own lives with a fight against that. The kids struggle with the idea that there are things bigger than themselves, things like love and trust and freedom. For a child growing into the narcissistic teen years, this is a good thing. And for children learning in school that the government is the cure for all the world's ills, Hunger Games does a great job of showing how a paternalistic state can manipulate people into docile acceptance of horror. Collins does a great job balancing these two concepts, that there are things much bigger than the individual, but that at the same time, it's individuals acting sometimes very alone that keeps the big concepts like freedom and trust and love alive.

The fact that the book's protagonist is a girl makes this all that much better. Katniss isn't a Superwoman, but neither is she a passive damsel in distress waiting to be saved by some man or institution. She is a victim, yes, she is taken from her family and forced against her will to fight for her life and kill other children, but she rages against her circumstances. Katniss doesn't accept the premise set out for her by the ones in charge; she uses her own experience and her own heart and soul to leave the box and win on her own terms. That's a great lesson for girls especially, but it's a great lesson for all children and all adults. It needed to be couched in horror to have the impact that it does.

The Hunger Games reminded me of all I am most proud of in my son, and it gives me hope that he is not alone.

Katniss wouldn't buy into the drowning polar bears.

Friday, April 20, 2012

G Is For.......Greed

Gordon Gekko rocking his "mobile phone"
I first saw the movie Wall Street on video as an impressionable young college student. I loved it. I reveled in Gordon Gekko. I was a bit upset that by the end it became pretty obvious to me that he was supposed to be the villain. Gordon Gekko was so cool! We are supposed to be rooting for that wimpy-ass Charlie Sheen character over him? Please. As I've gotten older and wiser, it's become clear to me that most movies with a "message" are written by liberals for liberals, and Wall Street was a message movie. When Gordon Gekko uttered the line that made me love him, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good," liberals all over America dove behind the couch in abject terror like I did when the girl's head turned all the way around in The Exorcist. I wasn't a liberal even then, so it made me love the guy. I missed "the message," that self-interest is bad and capitalism is driven by self-interest and so it also is bad. Gordon Gekko made sense to me. Here's the whole quote from that little speech. Warning to liberals, hold someone's hand before reading this, it's gonna be scary.

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.

You know, I just love that. Even today, 25 years later and after Enron and the tech bubble and the housing market collapse the too-big-to-fail bail-outs, I still love it. I don't see greed, or using the better word Gordon was lacking, self-interest, as the cause of any of these problems. They were caused by dishonesty, stupidity and too much government interference in the free market. You can be greedy and honest. You can be self-interested and generous. Wanting to achieve all you can, however you define happiness and success, doesn't preclude you from being a good person or doing good things. I would argue that it helps. The rich man can be generous with his own money, the poor slob who majored in Philosophy and as a result works pouring other people's coffee satisfies himself with being "generous" with other people's money. Voting to force your neighbors to fund high speed rail and wind farms when you won't or can't invest your own money in such things doesn't make you a "good person," it makes you a prick. Gordon Gekko was better than that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

F Is For.....Fair Tax

How about a show of hands of all the people who just love the tax code. Nobody? Ok, how about those who have read and understand the tax code? Still quiet out there, huh? Then why, when the thing is so roundly reviled and no one, not even those who voted for it, can tell me exactly what's in it, is there so much hesitation to throw the damned monstrosity away and start over with something new? The one Republican with an actual plan to totally replace the massive tax code with something more sensible was mocked for his idea. By the REPUBLICANS for God's sake! Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Plan isn't perfect, but it's a whole Hell of a lot better than just monkeying around on the edges of what we have. But 9-9-9 wasn't supposed to be an end in itself, it was meant to be step toward what I believe to the nation's last hope for avoiding total financial meltdown in the not so distant future, the Fair Tax.

Those who haven't yet heard of the Fair Tax can read about it in this book, and I highly recommend they do. I'll explain it briefly, though.  The idea is to replace all taxes on income, including the individual income tax, the corporate income tax, estate tax, gift tax, capital gains tax, Medicare tax and even Social Security tax, with a 23% embedded tax on all goods and services at the retail level. If you paid one dollar for an item, 23 cents would go towards the tax. Only new items would be taxed, not resale. To help protect the needy, a "pre-bate" would be credited to every household each month based on the amount of tax on spending up to the government published poverty level. For example, if the poverty level for a family of three is determined to be $20,000/yr, then 23% percent of that would be credited back to the household each year in 12 monthly installments of just over $440 per month, to cover the tax on the necessities of life. All goods and services would then be taxed, removing the power of politicians to exempt certain things.

The beauty of the Fair Tax is that it wouldn't simply make everything you buy 23% more expensive over night, though that wouldn't be so horrible without any withholding coming out of your check. You see, the trouble with withholding taxes is that cost gets imbedded in everything. When you buy a loaf of bread, the taxes those businesses paid every step of the way are included in the final price. You are paying withholding for the retail clerk, stocker, delivery driver, baker, and farmer, just for starters. Take those taxes away, and the market will drive retail prices lower, or wages higher, or both. It's a win-win because finally everyone in the retail economy is paying taxes. The drug dealers pay taxes on their new rims and the illegal farm workers pay on their groceries. But everybody, you, me, everybody, has total control over how much they pay in taxes by deciding how much they buy over the basics provided for by the pre-bate. Saving your money will be tax-free. Investing your money will be tax-free. With no corporate income tax, the United States will become a tax haven for companies from all over the world wanting to do business here because it's cheaper. The actual Fair Tax Bill sets the rate to achieve revenue neutrality, meaning the government will take in no more or less than it did under the old system assuming constant retail activity. Even the government isn't a loser under this plan.

So why haven't the politicians jumped at this? Why do they make up phony arguments and paint any Fair Tax supporting challengers as crazy or evil? Well, before the Fair Tax gets implemented, it calls for a constitutional amendment repealing the federal government's authority to tax income granted in the 16th Amendment. That scares incumbent politicians and those that hope to hold lots of power someday. The manipulation of the tax code is the main source of power in congress. It's how they reward supporters and punish the supporters of opponents. It's how they "encourage" behavior they like and "discourage" behavior they don't like. It's why the tax code is so ridiculously huge, it has tiny rules written into it for every tiny reason any congress-weasel could think of. Under the Fair Tax, this comes to a screeching halt. You will know what you pay every day. You will know what you will pay tomorrow. A happy meal will be taxed at the same rate as a head of cabbage. A Prius will be taxed at the same rate as a Mustang. If you watch your pennies, you can get away with less taxation. If you spend like a drunken sailor, you will pay a bunch. But it's up to YOU, not your congress how much you pay. That's freedom many in congress will not let you have unless forced to.

There is a good bit of grassroots support for the fair tax today. It's been a pleasant surprise to me to see it backed by friends of all political parties and beliefs. It just makes good sense. But it needs YOUR support to succeed. This can be done, but it won't be easy. The mass media will never give the Fair Tax a fair shake, it's too easy to misunderstand and the liberal wing of the media doesn't want power devolved from Washington any more than the political establishment does. If the Fair Tax is to become a reality, it will take citizens educating citizens about it, then forcing their elected representatives to take action. It won't be easy, but it can be done. And I hope soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

E is for......Election Day

We set the signs up really early :-)
I really love election day. I have been taking off the day of the general election for the last few years to stand outside my local polling place and hand out literature, greet voters and generally bask in the vibes of a representative republic in action. I know that's geeky in the extreme, but there you are, it's true. I've even gotten my son into the act. Our schools are used as polling places, so election day is usually a "teacher work day" and John is home. The last few years he has accompanied me to the polls. He gets up early to help me put up signs, and then happily hands out information and or just sits and watches the goings on. I think he was hooked when the first year he did this, he got a fresh, home-made ham biscuit from Bill Rabon's wife. Bill, a local veterinarian, is our state senator now, but was running for the seat then and his wife was running from poll to poll feeding the troops. John is a sucker for a biscuit, and I also think (hope) he sort of caught on to the way I was feeling and took to the day with enthusiasm. I'm proud to think that John, at 12, understands what election day means.
Waiting for the voter

Lately, the move nationally and at our state level has been to expand election day over as much time as possible. Early voting begins weeks before election day and absentee ballots are available to anyone, not just those who plan to be absent on election day. The goal of this is two-fold, first, to make it easier on the poll workers and elections officials on election day, and second, to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote. I understand the first reason, but really disagree with the second. Call me an elitist or what have you, but I don't think more participation necessarily makes for a better or more valid election. The polls are open all day on election day, from before sunrise to after dark. You can come before work or after or on a lunch break. If you know you want to vote and will not be able to make it to the polls, you should get an absentee ballot. If it's too inconvenient for you, or if you see a line and are turned off, I really don't want you choosing our representatives. You just aren't taking it seriously enough, and we will be better off without your participation. I despise our "Motor Voter" law for the same reason. I really think we are better off if the only people who vote are those who care enough to go register to do so.

Besides, with all those people casting votes early, who is going to feed John and I biscuits?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

D Is For.....Debate

Or Discussion, or just talking politics. I love it. That's why I have this blog, I can talk politics to my heart's content without boring people or making them uncomfortable. If you are here reading this, it's your choice and you can stop and go play Angry Birds at any time. Fine with me. That makes it less a debate or a discussion than a diatribe, but beggars can't be choosers, right?

I would much rather have a give and take, though. Either in person or via email, I love talking politics with another person or several people. I really don't mind if the people I'm discussing with agree with me, and I often would rather they don't. I'm not nearly as interested in the "for" or "against" positions held by my friends as I am in the way they came to their conclusions. The only statement that truly offends me is "Well, that's just what I think" as the final and only defense of a position. Unless you're a moron, there are reasons behind your opinions, and those are what I care about. They tell me who you are and what your history is like and what moves your soul. These are things I want to know about my friends and even my acquaintances. The issues change, and  yes or no is often too simple an answer. I'd much rather know that you disagree with me because you have strongly held beliefs than have you agree with me because you just want to get along. I may question your beliefs, but that doesn't mean I disrespect them, much less you. I ask questions to get at the "why" of what you think, not to change your mind but to understand you. It may even change my mind, I wouldn't bother asking if I didn't respect your opinions.

So if you have been reading these little alphabet-inspired pieces, I want to thank you, it means a lot. But it would mean even more to hear back from you, to share our thoughts. Feel free to question me, to disagree with me, to flat out call me a fool. I really don't mind, I am VERY hard to offend. Maybe we won't come upon some galactic, universal truths, but certainly we can have fun trying.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

C Is For......Conspiracy Theories

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term Conspiracy Theory thus:

A theory seeking to explain a disputed case or matter as a plot by a secret group or alliance rather than an individual or isolated act.

That sounds about right to me as far as it goes, but I don't think it does the idea justice. I personally love conspiracy theories. I find them fascinating, not for what they propose which is often racist, Marxist or just plain stupid, but I am intrigued by the way they grow and form and get passed around. I find the whole idea of conspiracy theories to be hugely useful in looking at how people, both individually and in groups, think in a political sense.  Although the Holocaust was made possible in part by using conspiracy theory-based propaganda, conspiracy theories are not always dangerous. Sometimes they are just funny or interesting or distractions from the real horrors of humanity.
 I was recently reminded of how much conspiracy theories and their adherents fascinate me while watching a debate between three men running for the GOP nomination to fill the US 7th District Congressional seat. One of these guys, a man named Randy Crow, had a website that is almost too perfectly conspiracy theory-based to be real. He used it the last time he ran for congress and has apparently taken it down, but here is a little snippet of it. 
I find it interesting Congress placed sanctions on the Taliban forbidding their members to leave Afghanistan, closed Afghanistan's foreign offices, & stopped all arms sales to Afghanistan in January 2001. These restrictions on the Taliban make it difficult to believe the Taliban could have played a role in Sept.11.
Since elimination of inheritance taxes does so much to eliminate God from our lives and communi$m, and since the fourth generation na$i'$ unconstitutional Executive Orders merging Church and State were also his first order of business after Big George's Omega Agency appointed Little George President, one can go to the bank knowing the elimination of God from our lives and the creation of a Hegelian State religion with Little George a vomit, look what the cat drug in god, is vastly important to Big George's Hegelian Omega Agency/New World Order.
Thirdly, I would like to point out the New York times types are soo greedy and dumb, they have forgotten to realize their game plan guarantees the end of the planet. The planet simply cannot survive environmentally the necessary wars to achieve their goal, theft of all the money.

Oh my God, I LOVE this stuff!  The $ in place of letters is a nice touch, I thought. Well, Randy toned it down for the debate. He was pretty good on a lot of the issues and the craziest thing that he said was letting us all in on the fact that the Federal Reserve had arranged the assassinations of Abe Lincoln and JFK to keep them from taking the country back to the gold standard. But he displayed some of the textbook signs of conspiracy theory silliness.

One of the hallmarks of conspiracy theories is the use of pronouns rather than any proper names. "They" are responsible for raising gas prices, "they make it so" the little guy can't compete, "they" can make the stock market go down as fast as "they" made it go up. "They" took the country to war to profit "their" bottom line. Randy did specify that usually he was talking about "monopolists" when he said "they," but that's really no better. See, a theory can't be dis-proven if it never actually proposes anything.  I can not convince anyone that "they" don't manipulate the commodities market to make gas prices rise and fall by buying "the politicians" if that's all there is to it. Who took how much money from where and gave it to whom in what form when to cause who to propose or vote for what legislation to bring about what policy that resulted in what effect? No one will ever say. You can't, because "they" control all the information. The fact that the theory is completely empty of specifics is used as proof that it must be true. That, in my opinion, is what defines a Conspiracy Theory.

There is no shortage of them, either. I looked at the Wikipedia page offering a list of conspiracy theories and it is huge. I couldn't read them all, they made my brain cells start to drop dead. They deal with nature, war, politics, economics, history, crime, assassination, aliens and medicine. Everyone probably holds onto one or two, all the while thinking they are perfectly logical, not like all that crazy stuff others believe. The person who believes fluoride in the water is killing us and vaccines make our kids autistic laughs at the person who believes in Bigfoot and alien spacecraft hidden below Area 51. The person that finds it ludicrous that the Knights Templar and the Catholic Church have hidden the truth about Jesus' wife from the world for thousands of years think it's perfectly reasonable that a small group of mysterious men control the whole world's economy like a puppet on a string. Some are convinced that the CIA released crack into the black community as a path to genocide but think it's silly to believe that FDR and LBJ crafted the New Deal and Great Society to destroy the black family and provide the Democratic Party with a permanent under-class voting base. There are people convinced the Bush family and the Tri-Lateral Commission hired the Isreali Mossad to blow up the World Trade Center on 9/11 while shunning those who just know for certain that the US government textbooks purposely leave out the fact that ancient Egyptians were black and flew around in airplanes 4000 years ago. There is a conspiracy theory to fit any or all political leanings and interests.

And they are seductive. I know people who are much smarter than I, have much higher IQs than I have, that are full adherents to some of these theories. That really makes me think. Why, if I'm right and these are all bunk, do such brilliant people fall for them? I think the answer lies not so much in intelligence as human nature. Conspiracy theories appeal to the basic laziness in all of us. They provide easy answers that can't be proven wrong. There is no risk of finding out your closely held belief is total crap-ola, because all contrary evidence is part of the conspiracy. I think I've never found conspiracy theories compelling as true beliefs not because I'm any smarter than your average person, but because I'm not. I've been proven wrong so many times that it doesn't bother me at all. I'm not the "gifted" kid that's expected to be right all the time, I'm just the "B" student who feels no pressure from myself or the world to have all the answers. It's liberating, really.

But I'm wondering if I don't sound like a conspiracy theorist myself when I say that maybe all these stories are meant to keep us distracted. It's easy to keep people in line if they are blaming some mysterious "they" for their problems and failures. There is likely to be less competition from those who think that the world is arranged against their success, because such people aren't likely to try very hard. What would be the point, if "they" will never let you become all you can be?

But who would be behind such a plan? "They" doesn't cut it for me, I'm afraid. Nope, our biggest enemy is not "they," it's ourselves. When we fail to think things through logically, when we scapegoat others for our own failings, when we teach our children that they can't make their wildest dreams come true because "they" will keep them down, then we do more damage to our lives and our futures than any "they" could ever dream of doing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

B Is For....Brunswick County

Brunswick County North Carolina is a lot of things, but most important to me she is my home, and I love her.

I never intended to come here, and yet this is the place I was dreaming about as long as I can remember. I always wanted to live somewhere warm (or at least warmer than Pennsylvania) and near the beach and the sea. I told everyone who cared to listen all the way through high school and college that I was moving to the beach as soon as I could. By late high school, the state of North Carolina was looking good to me after a few summer vacations at Atlantic Beach. People mostly smiled and humored me when  I told them this, but I think my parents had an inkling that I was serious and one particular girl believed in me whole-heartedly. This girl ended up going to college with me at Penn State and after we graduated and worked a summer to save up some funds, we picked the city of Wilmington off a map as a likely place to look for jobs and off we went to seek our fortunes together in the sunny south. Let me just say that there is nothing more encouraging than having a person believe in you with all her heart. Lisa shared my crazy dream, shared our adventure and became my wife and best friend and the mother of a wonderful boy. I can't imagine what my life would have been without her.

Anyhow, we crazy kids ended up at the Green Tree Inn on Wilmington's Market Street and used this fine motel as home base while we looked for jobs. As luck would have it, I found one in Brunswick County, as a greens keeper at the Gauntlet Golf Club in St. James Plantation. I loved that it was called "plantation," I mean, how very SOUTHERN! This was 1993, and St. James was a much different place than it is now. It's a bit of a metaphor for the growth in the whole county since then, I guess. At that time, St. James consisted of one golf course with a club house, pool and tennis courts. It had homes only on the front nine and some at the back of the property where it ran along the intracoastal waterway. It was a huge piece of property, but very little of it was being used. Today, St. James is a town in it's own right and includes four golf courses, three pools, lots of tennis courts, a huge marina and a population nearing 2000 people. The county has grown in much the same way.

We lived in Wilmington that first year, before moving to the Town of Long Beach in Brunswick County after our apartment lease was up. Long Beach at that time shared the island called Oak Island with two other small towns. It was heaven, still is if you ask me. But it was a particularly wonderful place for us at that time because it, and the rest of the county, had not been "discovered" yet. After renting a year, we bought a brand new home within walking distance of the beach. Yes, at the ripe old age of 25 I had achieved my dream of a house at the beach. While my friends back home longed to be able to finance a condo, I could sit on my front porch and listen to the ocean. We actually got woken up by a tug boat once. How cool is that? 

After buying that house, working on the golf course was no longer a viable option and I got a new job working for a beer distributor. Eventually I worked my way up to salesman and then supervisor responsible for Brunswick County, and that is when I truly got to know all this place had to offer. Brunswick County is really big, over 1,000 square miles, and it encompasses everything from beaches to swamp to timberland to farms. Much of it is beautiful, but in vastly different ways. In the winter we can watch the sun set into the ocean because our beaches face south rather than east. In the fall there are huge fields of fluffy white cotton in the western areas of the county. There are swamps here that are so dense and mucky that they are seldom seen by human eyes.  On the river sits an old white plantation house that has served as a movie set, while everywhere there are old, disused tobacco sheds that are gorgeous in their dilapidation. We have some of the most beautifully manicured golf courses you'll ever see and some of our beaches are inaccessible except by boat and so are basically left as wild as they ever were. The Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean a couple miles from my doorstep.

We share this county with all sorts of animals as well. This island alone is home to deer and foxes and the odd coyote. Wild boar live just across the bridge. Alligators peer out of our waters and sometimes end up in our driveways or eat our dogs. Sea turtles lay their eggs on our beaches and we sometimes get to watch the hatchlings making their mad dash for the sea. Bald eagles and ospreys grace the sky over this place and our marshes are full of herons and egrets. Pelicans and sea gulls patrol the coast and sandpipers run up and down the strand. You don't need to be particularly observant to enjoy the wildlife around here, but if you do pay some attention, you will be greatly rewarded.

The best, most interesting part of this county, though, is the people. We are far from the only ones to have come here from afar, in fact it seems the transplants outnumber the locals sometimes. But this county hasn't attracted your normal lot of retirees and carpetbaggers. I share the county with a retired four-star general and a former deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control. An astonishing number of retired FBI and intelligence community agents call this place home. Our local airport is run by a man who once crewed Air Force One. A guy down my street played guitar for Johnny Rivers and has a gold record for Secret Agent Man hanging in his living room. We have retirees living in half million dollar McMansions just a half hour's drive from a town called Crusoe Island that no one who doesn't live there visits because you may not ever leave. Brunswick County is home to several distinct accents, a few of which it took me years to learn how to understand. I've met some of the smartest people I've ever known here and had co-workers convinced that getting married in a Catholic church meant that I'd be wearing a big hooded robe and breaking a wineglass at the end of the ceremony. We have a thriving Hispanic community, a Thai Buddhist Wat and a little Vietnamese lady who cooks up the best burger you've ever eaten in a lunch counter-type restaurant full of velvet paintings and tiny Buddhas. We have a church on every corner and sweepstakes gambling room in every strip mall. We have a thriving local theatre community and a planetarium and people selling live chickens on the side of the road out of the back of a pick-up truck. Our schools struggle to graduate over 70% of the students, but the local high school has an aquaculture program that raises flounders behind the football field.

Brunswick County is a strange, strange place. My wife sometimes says she feels like she is living a William Faulkner novel. But we have found our happy place, somewhere we feel comfortable and happy and are glad to be raising a child here. I jokingly call this the Land of Misfit Toys. Well, half jokingly. I never fit in well growing up but I do here. Misfits need a home, too, and this one fits me just perfect.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A is For........Amendment One

My good friend has accepted a sort of blog challenge, to write as near as possible to a post a day, one for each letter of the alphabet. I am happily joining in as a way to encourage me into the regular writing habit. I figured why not start with a bang, my opinion on the soon to be voted upon North Carolina Marriage Amendment. So, here we go....

A is for Amendment One.

Amendment One is better known as the Marriage Amendment and will appear on primary ballots in a few weeks, May 8th to be exact. The amendment was passed by both chambers of the legislature last session and now goes before the people for a final up or down vote. The purpose of the amendment, if you haven't already heard or figured it out, is to codify into the state constitution what is already NC state law, that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman.  Here is the exact text of the amendment (though NOT what will appear on ballot):

Sec. 6. Marriage.Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.
The ballot will ask voters to give a yes or no on the following:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

It's close, but I have no idea why the actual text of the amendment will not appear on the ballot. I suspect the reason has a lot to do with political maneuvering and gamesmanship that would just disgust me even more, so I've not looked into it, honestly.

I will be voting a big, solid NO on this one. I suppose that makes me a RINO in some people's eyes, but so be it. I've always bent more to the libertarian side anyhow. I am a Republican because I see them as the party with the most realistic chance to protect my freedoms and those of everyone else. I believe the rights of the individual trump the interest of the collective, because individual rights are the basic building block of a free and prosperous society. I believe we are a country ruled by laws and not by men, something I was very happy to find in the Jaycee Creed back when we formed a chapter. And I believe this amendment flies in the face of all these things.

To begin with, and this sounds on the surface to be flippant, but I have a serious point, if this amendment passes it will become a part of Article XIV of the North Carolina Constitution. Any idea what that article is labeled? "Miscellaneous." For real, we have a whole article in our constitution, with five sections perhaps soon to become six, labeled "Miscellaneous." The North Carolina Constitution is a massive document compared to the United States Constitution. I believe a constitution should clearly define the limited things a government is empowered to do, and as such I would prefer it to be short. I believe that anything that finds itself in an article entitled "Miscellaneous" is a bad idea on its face.

It is also my strong belief that constitutions and their amendments should be restrictive of the powers of government, and not restrictive of the freedoms of citizens. The founders got it exactly right in pointing out the the reason men form governments is to make secure their God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Restrictions on freedom are justified only if the exercise of those freedoms by one individual would tend to restrict or trample upon the freedoms of another individual. Hence you do not, and should not, have the freedom to deprive me of my life, liberty or property. Two consenting adults, whatever the gender, do not infringe upon the rights of me or anyone else when they enter into a marriage contract with each other. The only role government should play in marriage is the enforcement of the legal contract and the making certain those entering into it are of age and competent to make the decision. The state is fully justified in restricting who can marry in terms of age and relation to each other, one to protect minors and the other to protect the possible children of a genetically too-similar union. Laws against polygamy are justified because the practice almost always leads to the subjugation of women. Big Love is a fantasy, folks. The marriage of a same-sex couple carries none of these problems, and so the state has no justification forbidding it.

By the same token, I don't believe the state has any right to force any clergy to perform a marriage on a same-sex couple. This is a case of the couple's freedom to marry interfering with the freedom of the clergyman to hold to his beliefs. The state has no role in the affairs of a church or other religious organization anyhow. The state can put the civil law stamp of legitimacy on a marriage that is performed in a church, but can neither forbid nor mandate the performance of the marriage ceremony. I think fears in this regard are unfounded, at least as long as we hold our government to it's proper role in general.

I understand the argument that gay marriage is a degeneration of societal values that have stood for thousands of years. But if we have gotten to the point where we look to secular government to keep the boundaries of our cultural values safe from change or degeneration, we have already given up the fight. That is not what government is for, it's what we as citizens, as humans, as members of a community are charged with doing. I challenge you to try to do it ourselves. Talk with each other. Learn what drives those with whom you disagree. Do not give up your beliefs, but challenge them, question them and then prove them to yourself in the real world. Just please do it yourself without bringing in the state. We have more than enough government already.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bringing Creationsim Into The Science Classroom

This blog post by a Penn State educated Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Rhode Island really intrigued me. Holly Dunsworth, the professor, is proposing teaching about creationism in her biological anthropology class. Before I get into my thoughts, here's a bit of where she is coming from:

See, those of us who teach from an epistemological perspective try our best to convey to students not just what we know but more importantly how we know what we know. This is an eye-opening and empowering way to learn which is why we try to create this experience for students. The only way to do that is to teach about evolution now--how scientists have come to understand it--compared to how people used to explain the natural world, which greatly influenced unscientific beliefs about nature that people still hold today. This epistemological approach means that we strive for a non-dogmatic and non-indoctrinating presentation of the material, upholding prized scientific ideals that aren't shared by many of those who support creationism. 

Dunsworth is suggesting using the whole history of humans' attempts to understand and explain the natural world to show how we got to where we are today in terms of scientific evolutionary theory. Without being insulting to the Bible as religious text, the story of creation can be used to show the evolution of evolutionary science. Here's Dunsworth again:

But given all those scientific theories, creation theory is the most effective way to put evolution in scientific context. It's a perfect foil for evolution, illuminating the scientific nature of evolutionary theory by demonstrating what science is not and what the scientific method cannot address.

This is a large part of what drew me to anthropology classes in college. Science to me is a whole lot more interesting, and valuable, when looked at in a human context. The biological anthropologist is not only interested in understanding what made us who we are, but how we as a society and as a species have come to understand and deal with the gaining of that understanding. History, religion, psychology and genetics all tell a story, and using all of them together makes that story much richer.

I respect the biologist who stands on his science, with genome models and  DNA strands and genetic drift and mutation, to understand the world around him. I also respect the theologian who stands on his religion, with the bible and faith and centuries of tradition and philosophy, to understand the world around him. But I try to follow a path both between and amongst the two. I don't think religion means much if you don't try your best to understand the facts of the world we all inhabit. I think understanding the world as it is brings us closer to appreciating the enormity of God's gift to us. I also believe science is empty if you limit your thinking to what you are capable of seeing and measuring and grasping with our technology and methods as they stand today. Appreciating that there is always more that we don't understand than that which we do is at the very heart of the scientific method at its best.

For me, anthropology helps us to walk that line between thought and belief. It helps us to see as much of the world as we can and to appreciate it in the context of our human experience. I am really happy to see someone like Holly Dunsworth teaching young people. I hope she is the inspiration to them that my professors were to me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

We Are Having The Wrong Argument

It has been a huge mistake, and a missed opportunity, for the Republican Party, and the Right in general, to allow this kerfuffle over who is going to pay for women's contraceptives to become a First Amendment issue. The White House targeted religious affiliated organizations for a reason. They want this fight right now to be over religion and thus over the morality of contraception. I've been going nuts listening to people on "my side" fall right into the trap. It's been easy to do. It is very true that the First Amendment protects churches from government interference, and thus under the First Amendment the mandate that Catholic charities pay for their employees' contraception and abortion is plainly unconstitutional. But by using that argument, we are surrendering our Constitutional government. Even if we win that battle, we lose a big piece of the war over the proper role of the federal government.

There is no authority vested in Congress to force anyone or any business to cover any medical expense, through insurance or otherwise. Article One Section 8 of the United States Constitution  gives the Congress certain powers, and this isn't one of them. When we argue that this part of Obama Care is wrong because it forces religious groups to pay for procedures and medications they disagree with, we are stipulating that it is just fine for the federal government to force any non-religious business to pay for the same thing or anything else, and it is not. It is not wrong because it is a religious organization being forced to buy it and it is not wrong because it is contraception or abortion that is being covered, it's wrong because there is no Constitutional authority for the federal government to tell anyone they must purchase anything for anybody. It's not a religious issue or a women's health issue, it's a freedom issue.

We as conservatives should have seen this and not let the argument go down the path it has taken. If we are going to see an end to the Obama administration, we are going to need to be seen as the pro-freedom party, not the anti-contraception party or the anti-women's health party. It's very unfortunate that the morality of contraception and abortion fits so nicely into Rick Santorum's political personality. I personally disagree with him on a lot of these social issues, but I do very much respect him for saying unequivocally what he believes and sticking with it. I do, however, think that his nomination, if not his continued prominence in the race for the nomination, will all but guarantee a second Obama term.

It's driving me batty that as the federal government is taking control of more and more of our everyday lives, we are being drawn into an argument over whether it's moral to take birth control pills. It's like we are aboard a sinking ship and instead of finding a competent captain to take over, we are complaining that the scrambled eggs on the buffet are cold.  It's a distraction, and a very dangerous one.

Instead of lecturing women on the morality of reproductive rights, we should be pointing out to them that the government that is given responsibility for paying for their reproductive decisions, also has the power to control their reproductive decisions. Nothing is free.

Friday, January 20, 2012

In Defense of Vulture Capitalism

Living just above the Great State of South Carolina, we are treated to the radio ads that have saturated their airwaves in the weeks leading up to tomorrow's primary. I understand it's a primary, a contest between Republicans, as as such they will necessarily criticize each other and each other's policies in their ads. I do wish, however, that Republicans would find a way to do so without resorting to lowest common denominator, populist stupidity. The attacks on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan were ridiculous. Cain remains the only contender for president with a real, honest plan to tackle the county's broken tax system. What did that get him? The other Republicans attacked the plan for being hard on the working class, unworkable and too complicated. Michelle Bachman went so far as to insinuate it was the work of Satan, which said a lot more about the woman's mental capacity than about the 9-9-9 Plan. That is exactly, with the possible exception of Bachman's nuttiness, what one would expect the Democrats and the press to say about Cain and his plan. With no serious proposals of their own, the other Republicans are basically saying the present system is better, that it isn't already everything they claimed 9-9-9 would be--complicated, unworkable and a drain on capital. With that attitude, we as Republicans deserve to lose.

Now the field has narrowed and, for the moment at least, Mitt Romney is seen as the one to beat. Are his primary opponents attacking him for not being conservative enough, for creating a state-run health care system, for being wishy-washy in his defense of his ideas? Well, to be honest, they are a bit, but the one ad that has been running over and over again attacks Romney for being a "vulture capitalist." Once again, Republicans have resorted to liberal arguments against a fellow conservative. The ad distorts and demagogues the role played in our free market economy by venture capital firms. It's playing on the woeful state of most Americans' economic literacy, and that is more than sad, it's a crime. This country will only survive if we as Republicans and conservatives and libertarians can educate the vast majority of Americans with an understanding of markets and private enterprise and the role of risk-taking and reward. It's going to be an uphill battle, and when the very people in the best position to push us forward are dragging us back, it scares the Hell out of me for the future.

Monday, January 9, 2012

We Are..... the 1%

Well, reading the fine print, not quite, but definitely the 2% and moving up. I'm talking world-wide, which, if you think about it, is better for the ego. I mean, wouldn't you rather be at the top of the world than the top of just one country? Hooray for us!

This bit of ego boosting comes courtesy of the Huffington Post, whose article on the subject for some reason does not find this to be a reason to celebrate. Here is their description of the news from an economist's book:

According to calculations by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in his book The Haves and the Have-Nots, about half of the world's richest one percent live in the United States, about 29 million of them, to be exact.
But the qualifications to make the cut may surprise some people who've never considered themselves part of the world's financial elite.
According to CNN Money, who reported on Milanovic's findings, an individual with an after-tax salary of just $34,000 per year ranks among the richest one percent in the world. A family of four, Milanovic says, would have to make $136,000 in order to qualify.

So it's after-tax income, and our household's needs to be divided by three rather than just two, but still, we are very much knocking on the door to Lifestyles of the Worlds' Rich and Famous. I gave this news to my wife this morning and she reported back that she didn't feel rich. That's the point, I think. Rich, well-to-do, elite, these are all very subjective terms and depend entirely on perspective. My wife works 40 hours a week as a municipal clerk, she's married to a middle manager in a route sales company, she lives in what to her seems a medium sized house in a middle-class neighborhood. We own one small SUV, bought used. We watch our money so we can take some trips and eat out when we want. Nothing extravagant. At least not in our terms, American terms.

Certainly the kids of the Occupy movement don't consider themselves rich or elite. They express disdain and even loathing for the rich elites. They believe the 1% should be giving up more of what they have to share with the other 99% who weren't born into a world of luxury and privilege. But these kids have clothes and food and tents and laptops and cell phones and backpacks and eyeglasses and blankets and frisbees and drums. They are literate and healthy and have an abundance of free time. To 99% of the world, the Occupiers ARE the 1%.

I could go on and on about the Occupy movement and it's hypocrisy and stupidity, but that's for another post. My point isn't that the Occupiers, or my wife, are ungrateful and greedy and should be sending half of what they make to sub-saharan African. That wouldn't work, as the reason sub-saharan Africa isn't home to it's share of the 1% is that it doesn't share the values and freedoms and laws and political culture of the United States or Germany or Japan. Much of the world is like a bucket with a hole in it, you can fill it with water, but it will always run out in a very short time until you plug the hole.

We don't owe the rest of the world our wealth, though we do have a moral and ethical obligation to keep as many people as comfortable and free as we reasonably can. We do have an obligation to support in other places the things that made the wealth of America possible. Economic freedom, individual rights, property rights, the rule of law and a moral underpinning based on the Golden Rule will do more than any amount of money to raise the standards of living for the "other 99%." Sadly, it's these things that the Occupiers seem to be railing most loudly against.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 Is Going To Be A Fun Year In NC Politics

It's only the fifth day of the new year, and already the General Assembly in Raleigh is entertaining. The wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from the democrat representatives is awesome to behold. This article in the Greensboro News and Record does a great job of explaining what happened and features some great gnashing of teeth quotes.

The long and short of it is this. The General Assembly was called back into session because the governor vetoed the Racial Justice Act. Failing to over-ride that, the Republicans took the house out of session and then back into session at zero-dark-thirty last night to over-ride the governor's veto of another bill. In this they were successful. This new law, which also passed the senate, will stop the state from automatically deducting dues for the North Carolina Education Association from teachers' paychecks. The NCEA will have to collect it's dues from it's membership all by itself. Democrats find this highly disturbing.

You see, the NCEA spent a good part of those dues last year trying to defeat Republicans, and also targeting any Democrats that fell out of step with the party line. Make no mistake, this was a political move on the part of the Republicans. They are trying to defund a part of the Democrat election machine, but the opposition to it from Democrats is just as partisan. They will claim this is an attack on education, on teachers and on the American Way, but really they worry that teachers may not be as willing to pony up dues money if they have to write the checks themselves, and that will lead to an emptier Democrat war chest come election time.

Whatever the motive, in my opinion this is a great idea from the Republicans. If the NCEA serves it's members well, they will pay dues. If not, they won't. That's the way it should work.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I'm Baaaaaack.....

Funny how something that becomes a habit can just as quickly be forgotten. That's sort of what happened with this blog. I enjoyed it for a while, then slowed down, then stopped altogether. I think it's time to try getting back into the habit of writing regularly, and this was fun once, so I am going to try and see if I can get back into some sort of groove. This was, and will remain, a politcally-centered blog, with occasional digressions into my other interests. If this becomes fun again, I have an idea for a second blog, so we'll just have to see what happens.

I figured today was as good a day as any to start blathering about presidential politics. The Iowa Caucuses are going down this evening and surely by tomorrow morning the political landscape will have changed somewhat. Again. See, that's what has me less than enthused about the whole field of Republican contenders so far. Not only do none of them light any sort of fire in me, but I feel completely disconnected from the process because our primary here in North Carolina isn't until May, and things may be decided by then. Or not. I just am finding it hard to become excited. I'd love to see the White House in the hands of someone other than Barack Obama, but my gut just can't see that happening, no matter who his opponent turns out to be.

I will remain involved as much as I can and do all I can to help those I agree with, or seem to agree with,  achieve office. Locally, I am lucky to be represented by a great state representative and state senator, and I will work hard to see those two men returned to Raleigh. I have high hopes that North Carolina will have a good Republican governor next year and that some much needed changes can be made in our state. I'm a firm believer that the closer a government is to you, the more effect it has on your life, so if I can get good local and state government, I'm much less worried about what happens on the national level. That's my theory today,m anyhow, we'll see how it works out.