Archive for April, 2008
I’m in Wyoming right now.
On Monday, I didn’t plan on being in Wyoming or anywhere near it.
I just watched a beautiful sunset over the mountains, and watched my boys enjoy themselves wandering around the foliage.
Six hundred and twenty four days ago I made what many people would call an irrational decision when I made an abrupt decision to move to Cincinnati. I just realized I drove the wrong way.
But to the point. I was sitting at home, unemployed, coming to the realization that Seattle just isn’t the town for me. The people are waaay to enamored with coffee to the point half of the population would go postal if they didn’t get their morning cup of Starbucks.
The other thing. They’re wussies when it comes to the weather. Seriously, I was walking downtown yesterday and it was in the low 50s. I was doing just fine with only a long sleeve shirt on and the rest of the population of Seattle was in their sub-zero winter coats! I can’t handle people all bundled up and crazy about freezing to death. I mean really we don’t even have a lot of rain here and only the occasional windstorm that knocks power out for two weeks. Where do these people get off whining about the weather?
So, I’m taking a leap, a leap of faith. I’ve decided I’m moving to Manhattan. Yup, that little island. I’m scared shitless. There is so much risk that I just assumed, but I have faith that I’m making the right decision, I have faith that things will find their way towards what they’re supposed to be, I have faith in my ability to understand and surmount the challenges that I’ve brought upon myself. But at least I’ll have people who know how to deal with shit around me. I mean they know how to deal with the weather there. No whining about not one, but three major power outages. Count’em one, two, three.
Oh.. Here is one more link for you to ponder while I am hauling ass on Interstate 90….. :-)
Put my standard blog entry disclaimer in here, that this entry has spoilers from Battlestar Galactica, season three. I might as well just drop it into the template for every blog entry from here on out, since that is all I seem to write about now adays.
The episode, “A Measure of Salvation”, takes a real close look at genocide of the Cylon species using a biological weapon. In the internal debates between the Admiral of the Military, William Adama; The President of the Colonies, Roslin; and their other military advisors, Lee Adama and Karl Agathon; a very strong line is drawn between those advocating the use of the biological weapon and those advocating against its use. In this case Agathon is the only one advocating against its use, and arguably his position is derived from the fact that he is married to a Cylon woman.
Here is the thing, I cannot clearly say which side of the line was right and which side was wrong. Both have completely compelling and rational arguments for their position.
Sure from a purely detached perspective I’ll say, “genocide is always wrong.” But in this case you have the Cylons, ruthless and potentially overpowering enemies, who are insistent on following you, killing your people, and want to settle on the same planet as you do. I’ll leave out the question as to who started the war, but generally at this point in the series most believe that the Cylon’s preemptively started the war against the humans.
I’m stuck rehashing pieces of the class, The Nature of Evil, led by Jon Luopa. Specifically, I’m drawn toward the idea espoused by Jon that evil is a response to the human condition. It is rational and justifiable to kill your enemy when they are threatening to kill you.
But, genocide is different. Admittedly, in this specific case it is less different, because as far as we can tell, every Cylon is engaged in warfare against humans. But, genocide generally includes non-combatants. So, the ethical choice to wipe out the Cylons is clearer and more justifiable than the rationales espoused for genocide in our world.
I remember arguing in an essay on a social studies test in ninth or tenth grade that the Catholic Church was indirectly responsible for the genocide of the Jewish people in WWII, because at one point they made it illegal for their followers to make money from interest. This left banking and lending generally to the Jewish people, which made them a perfect target for a power hungry dictator leading a people who had been devastated economically and financially after WWI. The genocide of the Jewish people by the German government, as led by Hitler can be argued as an borderline rational response to the human condition of the German people in the period between WWI and WWII.
I know myself well enough to admit, had if I been in the position of the leadership of the colonies in Battlestar Galactica faced with the decision to commit genocide, I would have.
Thats not something I am proud of, but I am not naive enough to think that I am that much of an idealist.
Biting off an issue a little closer to home: Torture.
I read an article where Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, argues for torture. He said:
[But] is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the Constitution?
It would be absurd to say you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game. How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be?
I’m generally against torture. But, I’m not categorically against torture. In the instance given by Scalia of a bomb in Los Angeles, his suggestion about “smacking someone in the face” is rational. I’m also fully aware of the need for advances in intelligence interviewing, to identify “…the most effective, humane ways of questioning terrorist suspects.” As the article about intelligence interviewing illuminates, we don’t know what works and what does not.
Going back to the Battlestar Galactica episode, “A Measure of Salvation” there are two important lessons to note.
In a conversation with President Roslin, Admiral Adama notes that colonial law requires a direct presidential order to use biological weapons. What is most appalling about the United States’s recent escapade through the the muddy moral waters of torture is how, as illustrated by the film Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, judgement about when to use torture was left to the most incapable of making that decision. In my view torture should be allowed, only after a torture warrant has been provisionally issued by the President and approved in due time by the Supreme Court. The decision to torture someone should rest at the highest level, nowhere else.
I’m mindful through all of this discussion of Mahatma Ghandi’s statement that “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” In “A Measure of Salvation” ultimately one of the officers of the Galactica commits treason and prevents the biological weapon from being used. Admiral Adama chooses not to pursue an investigation as to who prevented the deployment of the biological weapon.
He chooses to stop blinding the world.
- Fully electronic tax returns. Not just the filing part with the IRS/State part of things, I think there should be a legal requirement to provide tax forms (1099, W2, etc) as electronic forms. It should have to be provided not just as a PDF or HTML page, they legally should have to be provided in a standardized XML format so you can just upload it into your tax program. Think of the environmental benefit not to mention the cost and time savings.
- Energy consumption labeling. I want to be able to make an informed decision as to how much energy is used in producing a product and how much is used in transporting it. I know how much Vitamin C is in my Orange Juice, but what about knowing how much petroleum went into making it and getting it to me? This ideally should be split out into two parts pre-retailer delivery energy use, and post retailer delivery use. Two reasons for this split:
- Operationally the manufacturing and delivery functions tend to be different operations under different groups.
- Many retailers pickup their the products they sell at the manufacture’s warehouse, but not all do. So ultimately this would necessitate some coding on the store’s label to let you know if they picked up the product at the manufacturer’s facility or not.
Ultimately this whole damn thing is getting down to labeling for efficiency. That tropicana or florida natural orange juice you like, yeah it isn’t as efficient as Minute Maid. (or maybe it is, but I don’t know because it isn’t labeled..)
- A grocery store that I feel okay shopping at that is within walking distance from my apartment, so I don’t have to feel guilty for adding to my VMTs.
- Someone to do my laundry, seriously this just gets annoying. Mom, Dad, I never brought my laundry home from college… What do you say about some catchup?
- Pay as you drive automobile insurance.
I went wandering by the teacher’s webpages at Miami Valley School, my Upper School alma mater. Specifically, I took a quick look at Mr. Suiter’s page, Mr. Czarnota’s page, Brian Lakatos’s page (I know no Mr, but come on the kid is only like four years older than me!), and Kretz’s page (make sure to check out the halloween pictures).
But, it was Mr. Squiers’s page that struck me the most. Of course, there is that usual attraction of Squires being a rebel, in this case by hosting his webpage over at mac.com versus being like everyone else and hosting it on the MVS Teacher’s webserver. But, I was really struck by a statement on his homepage: someone asked why he was a teacher, and he said that “I teach because of a deep-seated, heartfelt, driving concern for the quality of individual lives.” I’m still a bit awestruck by that statement, even after mulling over it for a day or so. I’ve known Squires; I know that isn’t mission-speak bullshit.
I was reading my grades and written evaluations from my teachers at MVS. I was frustrated by seeing the theme of someone who for the most part had checked out of school.
I know I probably got a quarter of what I should’ve gotten out of MVS.
Those of you who have had the pleasure and honor of having had a class with Mr. Squires, please find the nearest chalkboard/whiteboard/Buddha Board and draw a triangle on it with one point facing up, circle that point, and draw several lines pointing at this circle, lecture for five minutes or so on self-actualizing. (Come on, you’ve sat through enough of Squires’s lectures you know you can do it, but for those of you a little rusty, take a quick refresher course.)
Now, are you there yet? Are you near that?
Are you bullshitting yourself?
Fifteen minutes ago I would have said I’m reaching through and around self-actualization.. Perhaps I am there, but there are still things to improve upon. Anyway once you say you’re there it isn’t as if magically you get to stay there and coast along, you have to work at staying there.
At the risk of sounding utterly cliché, I’ve been doing my best to live continual improvement. Let me illustrate this by example:
I’ve reasonably quickly picked up many of the Seattlite habits to lowering my environmental footprint.
- I’m using public transportation, walking, and biking to get as many places as possible. It’s not uncommon for me to go a week or more without starting my car.
- I live in an apartment and I’ve got a compost bin going. My waste stream is separated into glass recyclables, other recyclables, compostables, and garbage. Every waste collection basket in the apartment has specific items it can accept. This leads to some strange things, such as not being able to throw away garbage without leaving my bedroom, and ripping the used tea bags apart so it can be put into the three different waste streams that it fits into.
- I’ve been moving toward non-caustic biodegradable cleaners. This includes not using flea pesticides for my cats, which necessitates the dangerous work of giving felines a bath.
- I barely ever go shopping without taking my canvas shopping bags. No plastic bags here.
So spots that I have already identified where I can improve:
- My car still gets used here and there, and well its emissions system is slightly unhappy. (e.g. It needs fixed, I’m a bit broke, and a bit lazy about getting it fixed.)
- I have a nagging feeling that I’m still putting too much waste into the garbage. I don’t want to put everything into recycling and contaiminate that material stream.. (I just realized I don’t know why what goes into the recycling stream is supposed to go there, compared to other similar items that go into the garbage; I have a poor understanding of the decision matrix behind the separation of recycling from garbage.)
- I’ve got favorite cleaning materials and personal hygiene items that aren’t biodegradable or natural. Its going to take some work to find acceptable replacements for them.
- I’m still shopping and consuming. Plus, I know I’m not always making the purchase with the least packaging. I also haven’t really started putting a huge effort into buying locally.
After I address the areas for improvement of the second list, I will reevaluate and repopulate the second list.
Wash rinse repeat, ad naseum.
Continual improvement goes for everything in my life. I’m still working on managing my procrastination, depression, motivation levels and time-management skills. I would cite these four things as being driving factors behind that teenager “who for the most part had checked out of school.”
I also trace my lack of engagement to being in the closet.
Squires had this lecture he would deliver every so often, it would take different exact forms, but generally it was in the form of, “How does your _______ affect the self-actualization of ___________?” For example “How does your racism affect the self-actualization of African Americans?”
Or the uncomfortable edition for me: “How does your homophobia affect the self-actualization of a gay man?”
So one day, I decided try to answer him.
I remember asking him “What do you want to know?” It was one of those gutsy throw down all the cards, plus the ones I just borrowed from the other table moves. Ultimately, he gracefully shut down the conversation with as much class as one could expect. It isn’t every day a student comes out in the middle of class, so I’m sure it caught him off guard. He tracked me down afterwards and apologized for shutting the conversation down, but he wasn’t sure either of us was prepared to go there.
I wonder how this lesson was absorbed by my classmates. It wasn’t something that we talked about in any depth, for the most part they just acknowledged that I had come out.
I’ve been belaboring this entry a little bit more than the usual entry so I have come across a whole collection of thoughts that dovetail in here, but a quote by a Colorado State Legislator really resonated:
Discrimination is a practice that has gone on in this country too long. It is the birth defect of this country. And I think it’s time we deal with that. -Colorado Senate President Peter Groff (“Lawmaker uses short people to question gay-bias bill” in the Denver Post)
While I guess Groff was specifically referring to his fellow Coloradan legislators, but the wider implication is for all Americans.
One of the first plays I ran into at college was Spinning Into Butter and the strangest lesson I learned from it is its better to be a racist bastard and be public about it, than to be a racist bastard who is in the closet to everyone, including yourself.
In the climax of the play Sarah Daniels, a cacausian dean of the college who is working through the aftermath of a series of hate crimes against an African American freshman, explodes “… Just use what you know. Public transportation? Scary! Toni Morrison? I hate her! So what if she won the Nobel Prize? So did Pearl S. Buck! La la la. [Beat] Satisfied?” This where Sarah gets really honest with herself and everyone else and acknowled
ges her racist feelings and thoughts. It’s a turning point where she can start to make progress on her own racism.
Its odd, but one of the people I am thankful for is Fred Phelps. He’s upfront about his bigotries. He brings them to the forefront and allows us to examine them. Sure, it would be best if everyone really examined their bigotries and worked on them, but if you can criticize Phelps’s actions then reconcile your own beliefs and actions with your criticism of Phelps’s actions you’ve made similar progress.
So I’ve been struggling with my own question which would fit right into a Squires lecture: How do my actions affect the self-actualization of the homeless and the poor?
Honestly, I’m not sure I have a framework of knowledge in which to answer this question. So, let me make this personal:
There is a young man I know from church, he is in his early 20s. He’s a self admitted stoner. He was living in an apartment with something like nine other guys and got evicted. I know he was homeless, and I think he still is.
I’ve done practically nothing to help him out. I’m not sure what, if anything the church has done to help.
I feel like I did back in Chicago, but more consistently and intensely.
I play the same argument out that Sarah plays out in Spinning into Butter, “He’s a stoner, he was more focused on drugs than taking care of himself, etc, etc.” But people fuck up. I fuck up. Mistakes must be forgiven, less the world becomes a place of perpetual grudges that is impossible to navigate.
So yeah, I have no clue how do actions or lack thereof affect the self-actualization of the homeless and the poor, and it isn’t an abstract concept.
I don’t know where to go from here, but I’ve got work to do on a birth defect of my country.
So I sent part of my last blog entry off to one of the staff members at church via email.
The situation is more complicated than knew.
The bottom line is that the young man I mentioned at the end of the entry had been offered help by the community on multiple occasions, but has refused, likely as a result of mental health issues… Not that that closes the door for me.
I have another entry on responsibility that is percolating in my head that I’ll be hammering out here soon that’ll go into this in more detail…