Sunday, December 30, 2007

Head for the hills

Well, it has been too long since I've last written. But it hasn't been without cause -- and I don't mean the Christmas holiday. I've been in negotiations with the Thermopolis (Wyo.) Independent Record, a newspaper in north-west Wyoming. And I got the job!

This means that I may be taking something of a hiatus from here for awhile. As some of you know, I'm currently living in eastern Iowa, so picking up stakes and settling into a town 1,000 miles away isn't exactly a mean feat. The Map feature at Google tells me that the total trip will be 1,068 miles, and will take 15 hours and 24 minutes. I think the Goog is smoking some suspicious substance if it thinks I can make the trip in that time, even under perfect circumstances. (I have family in Cheyenne, which is about 250 from Thermop, and that drive can take nearly 14 hours.)

And on top of that, I'm only able to hope for near perfect circumstances. I've been checking the WyoDOT page this evening, and right now you can't get to Cheyenne, let alone points north or west: I-80 is closed; I-25 is closed; and the numerous federal, state, and county routes out of there are closed as well. Oh! Scratch that. I-25 is now open north of Cheyenne, but that still wouldn't do me any good, since I wouldn't be able to get there anyway. The best roads in the state are marked "slick in spots," and many more roads are either TNA -- travel not advised -- or just plain closed. And this is the winter norm in Wyoming.

So we'll see if I can make it. My current plan involves leaving here, Lone Tree, Friday about noon. I expect to lie low in Omaha for the evening, and then push to Cheyenne Saturday. I imagine I will bed down in the capital city, although my plans hinge on the weather. If the roads are all open and clear, but with the threat of weather Sunday or Monday, I'll probably push out early. But we'll see. I should hit Thermop either Saturday, late, or Sunday, depending on weather. And again writing about that weather: a Monday or even Tuesday arrival can not be ruled out, if I find that I have to spend additional hide-out time in either Omaha or Cheyenne. While I have the green light to retire to a motel in other places, I just assume to aim for friendly quartering with persons familiar.

I spent a good deal of treasure today purchasing items for the new place, all domestic. Bed sheets, laundry detergent, a fresh roll of toothpaste. However, there are some domestic items unique to Wyoming: tire chains, road flares, snow shovel (to live in my truck) -- those sorts of things.

In keeping with the tone of this blog, I thought I would (briefly) ruminate on a few of the difficulties an interstate move is posing. In a future post, after I've been through the process, I'll post a fuller laundry list of things to consider when moving to another state, but here's my rough draft...

First of all, there is the move itself. I'm giving U-Haul $227 (plus Iowa sales tax) for a trailer that measures 5'x8'. Fortunately, my new digs are furnished, so I won't have to worry about taking everything I own. On the other hand, I would rather have done that, because I'll have to come after my stuff at some point, which means a 2,000 mile round trip, and another U-Haul. But since I've got an old truck -- that I expect to get back from the shop after having a new clutch put in the same afternoon that I'm too pick up my U-Haul -- I decided to defer on that for now.

Once I arrive, I've got to worry about getting a Wyoming driver's license. ($20.) I've then got to insure my truck in Wyoming. (I dunno how much that'll cost yet.) I also have to transfer my truck title from Iowa to Wyoming, which means a trip to the cop-shop to verify my VIN number, and then to the county seat (thankfully, Thermop is the county seat of Hot Springs County), to do the deed. ($20.) And then I can get plates for my truck. ($96 is the estimate that I was provided from an online calculator. But this will be important for me: I'll get the famous Bucking Bronco logo plates!) Alright, at this point, I should have my truck sorted out, right? (Total cost: $136, plus whatever insurance costs.)

Then there is renter's insurance. I hear that's pretty reasonable -- if memory serves, probably $15 a month. Then I have to figure out if my mobile phone will work in Thermop. People tell me that Verizon is the best carrier there, but I've got Sprint. And I happen to be happy with Sprint. I roam for free, so hopefully I'll be able to use Verizon's towers -- and I don't use any advanced data services. Hell, I don't even text message. Ever.

But if I do have to drop Sprint, I will have to argue with them to let me get out of the remaining time on my contract -- it expires in November, 2008 -- without paying them to $200 early termination fee. I've heard that such a thing is possible, if it can be demonstrated that the current carrier doesn't offer reasonable service in the new locale.

Then there are utilities. Due to my housing situation, these should be fairly simple. I'll be renting half of a house and splitting the utilities 50/50 with the other two inhabitants. I just hope it isn't too lopsided. But the current resident tells me that his bills generally run from $80 - $150 a month on top of the $275 rent. I can live with that.

Well, I have much more to add, but my eyes are getting heavy and I have much packing to commence tomorrow. Shameless plug for comments: if you have any specific information about making an interstate move that I haven't written here, please let me know so I can hopefully avoid making any mistakes, and, if that isn't the case, incorporate your wisdom into my full checklist to come out sometime in January or February.

Cheers -- and I'll see you in Wyoming!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Self determination in the land of the Despot?

I've always had an interest in Russia -- it and Turkey are the two places overseas I really want to visit. A cousin of mine was even fortunate enough to spend time there teaching English. Well, she was fortunate enough to be able to afford it. The fact that she spent a lot of time and work on learning Russian might have had something to do with it as well. Nevertheless, I remain green with envy.

Therefore, when Time magazine announced today Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, as their man of the year [Edit: person of the year], I was interested. Interested, of course, to read their cover story. And the story about why they named him. I read these before I read a story about national identity in post Soviet era Russia. After I read those three, I read about the super glitzy nightclubs of Russia, where one night in the luxury suite can cost upwards of $40,000. There was also an interview of Kissinger about Putin. There was also an interesting piece about prognostications on Putin's place in history. Gorbachev also has a love letter for the president in the issue. Almost satisfied of my Putin-fix, I read on about economics in the Russian capital. And then, like at Christmas dinner, full to even the highest corners of my stomach, I saw one last piece of pie -- well, a hell of a large pie, and not even just a slice -- the complete transcript of the Time interview with the president.

Well, there are probably about 7,500 words that I digested. I'll cover the main points, or at least what I thought were the main points. A note: if you're going to read some or all of that material, I'd suggest both the actual cover story and the complete interview -- both are fairly long, but worthwhile. The cover story is worthwhile because it presents the back story in some places where it is helpful. The complete interview is a good read because it is the cannon, and because it is interesting (especially) side by side to see how Time parses Putin's words. The "excerpts" which I did not link to above are just a rehash of the complete interview.

Without further ado, my main points:

* Putin is Christian, a Russian Orthodox. He seems to be fairly devout -- but he also seems to maintain a balance between public and private:

You could say that it is my deep conviction that the moral values without which humankind cannot survive cannot be other than religious values. Now, as regards a specific church or other establishment, that's a separate matter. As somebody said once, if God exists, he does know that people have different views regarding church.
Now, does this not sound like a particular American candidate to you?

* Time's staff seem to have gone into this interview with unusual tenacity, offering probing follow-up questions when Putin seemed evasive. I just wish they used the same tenacity interviewing domestic pols. The president (our president) must have some really heavy duty security, since these guys weren't afraid to ask the tough questions of Putin even after being warned about snipers roving around outside the villa. Oh, and Putin is an nth degree black belt.

* Putin seems to believe -- and the ancillary stories to the cover package seem to back this up -- that the Russian people really do want him to be a strong-man. (At one point, Time writes that his internal popularity rating is holding at about 70%.)

Alright, three points are enough -- because I want to focus on the third.

The way that I understand things, and what I imagine is one of the underlying factors that lead to the great misunderstandings between cultures, is that some cultures have different values than our own. Duh! I know some of you are yelling at your computer screen. Some African tribes want to practice genital cutting (in some quarters referred to as genital mutilation), and some of us scream about how this is misogynist. (Or, there are now groups here that are calling for an end to infantile circumcision because they argue that such a decision should be made by the guy later on in life.) Some Native American tribes want to smoke peyote to get closer to their gods. And on and on and on.

But when we hear that some cultures value cultural stability at the cost of personal liberty we all throw up our arms and start the talk about exporting democracy to these poor, ass backward souls. A SCOTUS justice -- Oliver Wendall Holmes, methinks -- once wrote that democracy is the only system of government that contemplate its own demise. For example, we can vote in politicians who enact, for example, a monarchy. This could be done, quite legally, through a series of Constitutional amendments. Or we could suspect the Constitution. Or abolish it. Or something. But at any rate, just such a decision could be arrived at through the democratic process.

But now comes Putin and Russia, saying that stability and progress are worth more than freedom and stagnation. (It's the economy, stupid.) Some free markets are alright, with a strong hand to guide them. Before you get yourself all rilled up about that thought, recall that we've elected leaders in this country that have made a similar bargain: civil liberties for collective security. Regardless of which argument you feel is more compelling (Ben Franklin: Those who would give up a little freedom for security deserve neither), you must admit the hypocrisy to holler at the Russians when we've mad the same trade.


* (Point number four -- I just remembered:) Putin's core principle seems to be that of internal control. He refused to comment on the current presidential race going on here, because he thought it would be offensive for a foreign leader to make pronouncements about another nation's priorities. At no point does he ask that we follow the Russian system. He refused to criticize the electoral college -- but he brings up such refusal to point out what he perceives as hypocrisy. (You'll note from above, I am sympathetic to such a charge.)

Perhaps he is wrong, and, prima facie, individual rights should trump collective considerations. I happen to think that, that, is indeed the case -- I think Putin's system will crumble at some point. But at least he's consistent about his beliefs -- and perhaps we should become more so, as well.

UPDATE: Three traditions

If you'll recall our earlier discussion on religion for a moment, there is another comment that's bubbled up that I wanted to post and discuss. And -- hooray! -- this presents a chance for me to introduce another tag for posts: semantics. I have conflicted feelings about semantics: as the commenter (that I quote below) somewhat alludes to, semantics can be an academic exercise in splitting hairs, and might be a pejorative in that context. But at the same time, semantics are also important. SCOTUS (The Supreme Court, another group I expect to blog about at some point) is currently trying to figure out what the Second Amendment to the Constitution means (that would be the one about guns). How? They're dealing with commas. God save the queen.

But at any rate, back to Yahweh. First, you may remember that I wrote:

When I write about faith on this blog, and I don't expound upon which particular faith I'm writing about, I'm speaking in general about the Islamic/Christian/Jewish tradition that dominates Western culture. I'm not an expert in any of the three, but I know a thing or two. (Please comment when I incorrectly generalize across the traditions, or otherwise make a muck of things.)
Well, Casandra did comment, and took me to task for too closely associating these three religions. (Disclosure: Casandra is my former girlfriend and we remain close. Caveat: she's also a religious studies undergraduate alumnus, working on getting into grad school for religious anthropology. What do I know?) To avoid too much rehashing, here's what I figure to be her main point:
You see, the common link between these three religions is the prophet Abraham, but the three religions cannot even agree on the story of this man let alone his importance. You could say that Judaism and Christianity have much more in common with each other than either does with Islam, and that would be correct. However, it would still be incorrect to lump them into one tradition.

Like I said, Judaism is largely based on Mosaic Law. Well, many Christians believe that when Jesus came, he created a new covenant in place of the Mosaic covenant. With this belief, there is no reason to follow the Mosaic covenant and therefore, Mosaic Law.

My point here is that each of these religions have distinct beliefs with distinct traditions based on these beliefs.
And then, an anonymous poster throws in. He or she (I detest the gender/plurality indefinite pronoun "they") makes several cogent points, available for your full consideration under that posts' "Items for discussion." Here is the specific point that I think I was trying to make in that original post (quoted at top):
I think you're all arguing over semantics, in all honesty the 3 religions claim belief in the same 'God'. Perhaps the word tradition was innapropriate ...


The point being, there is an indeterminable amount of ways to divide religion, and on the whole most religious leaders point out that their are more things in common between the big 3 than their are different.
I think that very nicely rephrases what I was trying to say: these three particular religions do share some ancestry and have more in common with one another than other religions. (Right?) Well, not so fast, perhaps: the anonymous commenter also writes, "Hell right now their are probably protestants arguing against the fact their being lumped in with catholics." While Protestants do have issues with Catholics -- see, for example, the euphemistically labeled "troubles" of Northern Ireland -- an additional discussion is going on right now in politics: Is Mormonism a Christian faith? (I wonder whether the Southern Baptist Convention would be more injured by that claim, made by Gov. Mitt Romney, that he is indeed a Christian -- or by my lumping the SBC in with Jews and Muslims?)

The bottom line, for me, is this: Religion is a terribly difficult thing to define and discuss. We frequently are forced to limit ourselves to provisional judgments and rules of thumb in order that we might be able to even begin a discussion. Otherwise, we'd spend all day every day arguing over what religion was, before we might discuss it. Just as Mormons might practice a particular brand of faith that many (other?) Christians might find heretical or at least non-Christian, there is a similar diversity of religion or faith -- or lack of it -- in agnostic and atheist circles.

The point? We all self-identify in terms of religious. If we go to mass at Roman Catholic basilicas, well, we might self-identify as Roman Catholic. The same with those who attend Friday prayers at a Mosque -- most of these folks would self-identify as Muslim. But attendance is an outward action that signifies very little of our internal belief. Witness the friend at a godchild's baptism, or the in-laws at your Protestant wedding. Everyones' faith, religion, or lack of either, is fundamentally internal. And so we're -- at best -- throwing darts at the board blindfolded, not knowing what exactly we're trying to discuss, and certainly not knowing where to vault our prognostications.

I know that we've spent a good bit of ink on the (seemingly) rather simple question of whether or not it is a good idea to throw Christianity, Islam, and Judaism together into one grand label. But as the continuing debate illustrates, the question may not be answered so simply as it is posed.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Iowa Caucus Troubles

Oh, boy, what a mess. I've heard plenty of whining from all quarters about how bad the Iowa Caucuses are for democracy and whatnot: we're an overwhelmingly (and hence not nationally representative) white, the caucus itself isn't really a democratic process, Iowans are idiots. I have always been, to varying degrees, sympathetic to all of these arguments. (Well, not terribly sympathetic to the idiot charge: I am biased.)

And, then, via Mickey Kaus on Slate, comes trouble. First of all, Kaus says, "The TV networks are screwing around with the already-absurd Iowa caucuses again, using an 'entrance poll' of only 40 precincts (out of more than 3,500) that threatens to manufacture a misleading result. Ah, but it's all justified because of the valuable information the network poll will gather!" (Emphasis in original). He continues, "The networks wouldn't have to resort to a questionable 'entrance' poll if Iowans voted at normal hours using, say, easily-countable ballots. But that's not the Iowa way." Read on for the whole backstory, or skip down to my interpretation.

Kaus is generally one of the Slate features I generally avoid -- I'm often sympathetic of some of the highly cynical points he makes, but I tend to choke on his vitriol. But his arguments, if true, were distressing enough that I read with interest. Most damningly, however, he provided a link to a piece by Slate correspondent William Saletan, who writes the "Human Nature" feature on that site. Describing the article as "seminal," I followed the link to Saletan's "article on the epic 1988 caucus debacle." The title from the Saletan piece? "The Phantom Poll Booth: Who won the 1988 Iowa Democratic caucuses? We'll never know." (I was only 5 during the debacle -- I didn't even know that there had been such a mess.)

The 1988 piece is presented as a sidebar, reproduced from the June 1988 American Politics, to a 2004 post, "The Vanishing: If you liked the Florida recount, you'll love the Iowa caucuses," written by Saletan and Slate intern Matt Schiller. Things aren't getting any better, apparently:

To create a dangerously high risk that the winner of the delegate count isn't the winner of the raw vote, you need two things: a big field, so that there will be plenty of nonviable groups to redistribute at the precinct caucuses, and a close race.


This year, the two risk factors have returned with a vengeance. The field is bigger than in 1988, and the race is closer. The latest Iowa polls have the top four candidates—Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, and Edwards—within the margin of error. [A media consortium called the News Election Service], which tried to count the raw vote in 1988, is gone. Here's the system the media have created to replace the NES: Nothing. Plenty of reporters will attend caucuses, but nobody is systematically reporting the raw vote, or even the realigned vote. Some folks at the TV networks seem to think the Associated Press is reporting the raw vote. That's news to the AP.

For better or worse, all of this presupposes you have something of an understanding of how the caucuses work. Don't worry if you're not an expert: it doesn't appear that anyone is. (Or perhaps that's a good reason to soil your trousers. On reflection, I pick the former.)

For those of you who don't have half an hour to dispose upon your democracy (shame!), or trust me enough (horror!) to be interested in my read on the situation, well, here goes. First, a quick primer on how the caucuses work, with reporting measures thrown in to taste. This is hardly an authoritarian or complete description; I'm just touching on the points that are implicated in Kaus and Saletan's writing. And note, this only applies to the Dem's. The GOP has their own form of a caucus, which is strikingly like a primary.

Alright. January 3, 7 P.M. Some Concerned Citizens (the eligibility requirements are an entire 'nother post) gather at their designated caucus spot. At a few of the zillion local precincts, the press will take entrance polls of caucus goers' first choices -- before the caucus begins. Right. The precinct captain tells people to go stand in the corner of their respective candidate: Hillary folks in one corner, Obama supporters over there, Edwards' over here, Bidens' in the fourth corner, Dodds' here between Hillarys' and Edwards', ad nauseam. It is at this point, to my understanding, that the former NES (now defunct, see above), was instructed to take vote counts. Candidates groups not meeting viability are told to realign. Viability is figured as 15% of precinct attendance. During realignment, previously nonviable candidate support groups can achieve viability by bringing on supporters from other nonviable candidates, or by sniping from viable candidates. I saw this happen in 2004: when Dean and Clark all failed to meet viability, Dean supporters sat out for the most part, and Gephardt's group offered a few supporters to Clark, ensuring that Dean wouldn't get a delegate.

Confused yet? Gephardt's group was able to offered two or three supporters for a Clark delegate because of the way that rounding works. Imagine division with a remainder, if you would. In my particular precinct, for example, we were allotted six delegates in 2004. Given to the number of people who showed up -- 80 at my Lone Tree, Iowa, precinct -- and the 15% rule, 12 persons were required for viability. However, every 14 persons in a particular group (80 attendees / 6 delegates = 13 1/3) provided a delegate. In theory, therefore, it would be possible to be viable but not earn a delegate. My head is starting to hurt, too.

Dean's group, if I remember, was one supporter short of viability -- 11. Another supporter would have allowed them viability, and the chance to snipe supporters from other groups. If you remember, Iowa was a fight between Dean and Gephardt -- so Gephardt would want anyone else to get a delegate before Dean. Therefore, they offered a few strategic bodies to Clark, assuring him viability and a delegate. Without those bodies, Clark supporters might have gone over to Dean's camp, giving him a delegate.

What's all of this have to do with division and remainders, you ask dear reader? Gephardt had sixteen supporters. Let's practice division: 16/14= 1 remainder 2. Those two extra bodies in the Gephardt camp were pretty much worthless: they weren't going to give Dick an extra 1/7 delegate. But they could use those two bodies to shore up Clark -- who turned out to be exactly the also-ran Dick's crew calculated them to be -- and ensure that a measly three bodies didn't deflect from Clark to Dean. (As an aside, Clark earned exactly three statewide delegates in 2004, in Iowa. The Clark county delegate from Lone Tree in 2004 was one of three in Johnson County (same county as Iowa City) and one of 15 statewide. Confused, still?)

Now, this isn't even the problem! This is serious enough to require both boldface and italics.

As you can begin to imagine, the whole caucus process takes a long bloody time, the antithesis of political news coverage. Rewind to the beginning of the caucus -- the entrance poll. My best read of Kaus and Saletan is that the entrance poll numbers are what will be reported on the news outlets -- entrance poll numbers that tally caucus goers' first choices, and poll numbers taken from only 40 precincts (of a total 3,562 Democratic and Republican precincts).

Implications? Well, it would seem like no one need caucus unless they happen to be at one of the 40 precincts where there is entrance polling taking place. And, then, who do declare your support for? Imagine a caucus-goer who supports Sen. Dodd, but who figures Dodd can't win. Not knowing that her vote really counts incredibly disproportionately highly, this caucus-goer might declare her support for her second choice (and top-tier, per MSM) candidate, Sen. Edwards. Arg!!! Not only is her vote subverted (well, not really a vote), but well, everyone who caucuses elsewhere need not apply anyway. From Saletan:
In the last days before the caucuses, buoyed by the Des Moines Register's en­dorsement, [Paul] Simon aides echoed the Bab­bitt campaign's mocking line on Gary Hart: "Let the media decide." On Febru­ary 8, that's what happened.
Looks like that's set to happen, again. Please -- someone tell me that I'm wrong about this. I'm beginning to make a Kauslike use of bold and italics. Save me!

[Edit 071217@2109: Readability edit.]
[Edit 071217@2146: Readability edit again.]

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top Ten Lists

I haven't attached any links without some serious consideration -- in the form of comment here -- about what I'm pointing you to. But I found this via Slate -- they've tentatively named the article as the best Top Ten List of the year -- in Time magazine. I think this is an excellent piece on how people think, relate to one another, and to the world in general. Can you think of a compelling Top Ten list? Or even better, can you do better than the Time piece getting meta about it?

Cheers, and everyone have a good weekend.

P.S. Watch out for the "gotchya" at the end of the Time article.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

UPDATE: The three traditions

Just returning from my local tavern, I find that Casandra has a few important things to say. About my lumping together the three "Abrahamic" traditions (from comments):

Sorry it has taken me so long to finally post this response, but as you know, various circumstances have prevented me from doing so earlier.

So, here goes:

My main objection to what you wrote is specifically your generalization. You lumped Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into one tradition. I would argue they are not one tradition and do not share one tradition.

According to, tradition means:
"1.the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.
2.something that is handed down: the traditions of the Eskimos.
3.a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting: The rebellious students wanted to break with tradition.
4.a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.
5.a customary or characteristic method or manner: The winner took a victory lap in the usual track tradition.
a.(among Jews) body of laws and doctrines, or any one of them, held to have been received from Moses and originally handed down orally from generation to generation.
b.(among Christians) a body of teachings, or any one of them, held to have been delivered by Christ and His apostles but not originally committed to writing.
c.(among Muslims) a hadith.
7.Law. an act of handing over something to another, esp. in a formal legal manner; delivery; transfer."

Alright, let's start with a brief overview of the three religions in question - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Judaism - the "Jewish Tradition"
The Jewish Faith can be traced back to the man known as Moses. Some believe it can be traced back further, but it should be enough to say that Jewish history is based on the stories of the Old Testament of the Bible. It doesn't matter if much of the history cannot be proven. What matters is that Jews consider it their history, their tradition. For the purposes of this conversation, there are two things that should be remembered: Abraham is an important prophet in the Jewish tradition and Jewish tradition is largely based on Mosaic law (the laws set forth in the first five books of the Old Testament, known in Judaism as the Torah).

The Christian tradition obviously has roots in Jewish history. Christians adopted Jewish history as their own. However, it is not the basis or the emphasis of the Christian faith. Christianity is largely based on the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Since Christians claim Jewish roots, Abraham is also a recognized prophet in the Christian faith.

Islam is based entirely on the teachings of Muhammad, both in the form of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (stories about Muhammad). One of the things Muhammad taught was that the origins of their religion were centered in the story of the Jewish prophet Abraham. However, Muslims tell a different version of the Jewish story of Abraham and even emphasize the other of Abraham’s two sons.

You see, the common link between these three religions is the prophet Abraham, but the three religions cannot even agree on the story of this man let alone his importance. You could say that Judaism and Christianity have much more in common with each other than either does with Islam, and that would be correct. However, it would still be incorrect to lump them into one tradition.

Like I said, Judaism is largely based on Mosaic Law. Well, many Christians believe that when Jesus came, he created a new covenant in place of the Mosaic covenant. With this belief, there is no reason to follow the Mosaic covenant and therefore, Mosaic Law.

My point here is that each of these religions have distinct beliefs with distinct traditions based on these beliefs. defines tradition as “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.” If you have different statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc. that is being passed down, then you obviously end up with different traditions. Hell, in the definition of “tradition,” these three religions are divided. I think this signifies that the differences in the three traditions is important enough to note in the dictionary.

I would agree if you said that these three religions had a common ancestor, a common root, or even common history, but they definitely do not have a common tradition.
I stand corrected. As is my due. Should I continue to refer to these religions as common? Your comments are now being solicited.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What I'm working on this morning

I'm working on a cover letter and resume package to send out for an oil pipeline job in Illinois right now, actually. But when I'm done with that, I'll be putting together my response, in the voice of Mike Huckabee's press secretary, to a few of his more contentious comments on AIDS he made some years ago. William Saletan from Slate brings forth a contest:

Your audition assignment: Reconcile these comments from your boss.


1) “We need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.”

2) "The AIDS crisis was just that -- a crisis."

3) “My concern was safety first, political correctness last.”

4) "When asked about AIDS research in 1992, Huckabee said it received an unfair share of federal dollars compared to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. 'An alternative would be to request that multimillionaire celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna and others who are pushing for more AIDS funding be encouraged to give out of their own personal treasuries increased amounts for AIDS research,' he wrote."

Fire away, contestants. And good luck!

This, to help facilitate discussion after this brief post this morning:
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is under fire for having urged a quarantine of HIV carriers. Huckabee 1992: 1) "Homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk." 2) "We need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague." 3) The government spent too much money on AIDS research compared to other diseases, so maybe "celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna and others who are pushing for more AIDS funding" should sponsor the research instead. Huckabee 2007: 1) "There was still too much confusion about HIV transmission in those early years." 2) "My concern was safety first, political correctness last." 3) I now favor spending billions on AIDS relief. Rebuttals: 1) Actually, by 1992, "it was well established that the virus could not be spread through casual contact." 2) How could a disease be dangerous enough to quarantine but too frivolous for federally funded research?
Oh, my.

A better democracy?

I've read two items so far this morning that demand comment and reflection. Good items, really, thought provoking and intelligent -- but are they right?

Item number one comes to us via the Washington Post: written by an ABC newsman (No, not that ABC -- this is the Australian Broadcasting Company), John Barron gets the hed: "Campaign Kangaroo: Elections? Here's How You Do It, Mate". Barron suggests that we northerners adopt an more Aussie way of electing our leaders. He notes, wryly, however, that he'll be here to cover American elections until then, because they're as much fun as American Idol. (I killed my TV.)

Item number two comes to us via the New York Times: Stanley Fish writes a regular column there, "Think Again," working on the conventional wisdom. (By working on the c/w, I generally mean to say he tweaks the hell out of it.) This week, he writes about what we're looking for in candidates, and seems to take a rather Machiavellian view (his own description). And you know what? To a point -- a significant point, but nonetheless -- I agree with him.

Full stop. Reactions? On the Australian side of things, I can not help but get excited at the thought of "required" voting. I'd almost support a constitutional amendment in favor of mandated balloting (it seems a near certainty that such an amendment would be necessarily in light of first amendment (i.e., political speech is the most protected form of free speech) concerns) if for no other reason that such a process would force the government more towards the center. If you think that the majority -- or the center -- is right, anyhoo. One must wonder, nevertheless, if the body politic in this country hasn't become too fragmented to be put back together. Sen. Obama seems to have the best claim to that mantle on the Democratic side, and I think that the only candidate on the Republican side of the ticket who could unite the country would be Rep. Ron Paul, although I imagine he'd unite 90% of people against him, save the Libertarians. But I don't know if a forced ballot would solve any of that.

On the Fish end of the ledger sheet, well I think he goes too far, but I haven't had enough time to greatly reflect on it here. But I'll give it a shot, anyway. Fish opens with a discussion about how Katie Couric (CBS News Anchorwoman) will be asking softball questions of the candidates, stuff designed to "
“go beyond politics and show what really makes them tick”" (me quoting Fish's quote of, I imagine a CBS News announcement or press release). Fish then closes with:

In short, craft before integrity, but have sufficient craft to produce integrity’s image. Machiavelli’s hero in this regard is the notoriously corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who “did nothing else but deceive men. … [N]evertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.”

I am not suggesting that Katie Couric take her questions from Hobbes and Machiavelli rather than from the polls that survey the opinions of ordinary citizens. I don’t see her asking Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, “When did you last successfully deceive someone and still manage to keep his or her friendship and loyalty?” At any rate, that is a question the truly Machiavellian leader would decline to answer and publicly condemn.

Yet I harbor the hope that the man or woman we finally elect this time would have that particular skill in spades and would be, at least in this respect, the match of Alexander VI. The decorums of political contest demand the rhetoric of integrity and sincerity. The performance of political duties, especially at the highest level, requires something quite different.

Gad zooks, as I'm known to say. The craft to lie, and sufficient craft to lie while seeming to be telling the truth!? This hardly seems like a democratic ideal. Never mind I'm still struggling with democracy, 'natch. Some of my excitement is exaggerated; as I noted, the only thing Fish seems to prefer to throwing gasoline on the c/w is getting also to throw the match.

I happen to agree more with Barron, though, than Fish. Fish seems to think that effective governing, even at the expense of transparency and a basic commitment to honesty, is the higher principle. If this is the case, I am sure that Fish cast a ballot for President Bush in 2004. Barron, however, is more interested in an honest, but circumspect, leader -- if I'm reading it right:
But there isn't the same polarizing effect [in Australian elections] as candidates try to "appeal to the base" and turn out the vote. Interest groups and "voting blocs" have much less influence in Australia than they do in the United States. So much so that in two weeks in Iowa I learned more about the views of each of your presidential candidates on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage than I did from John Howard in nearly 12 years.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Teddy Bear Strike Force Z

[Edit 071209@1542: Readability edit.]
[Edit 071210@1014: Added name link.]

From the New York Times Magazine today comes this little tidbit:

When the New Zealand police force said they were open to suggestions about how to rewrite national policing laws, they meant it. In September, they posted the 1958 Police Act online and invited Kiwis and non-Kiwis alike to visit the site and type in their own revisions to the law...
Whoa. The (policeman) administrator of the wiki project said his favorite suggestion was "that the name of the police force be changed to 'The New Zealand Yum-Yum Teddy Bear Strike Force Z.'"

With review protocols in place, this strikes me as both fantastic and frightening. On the one hand, this is pretty open. I was going to write "democratic," but I'm not quite sure that it reaches that level. If edits were accepted on the basis of a line-item vote, yeah, but by accepting suggestions and then vetting them internally, well, I'll say that it is open. Unless (the NYTM item doesn't address this) the internal vetting process is also transparent, this idea remains fantastic, but only translucent. But much less opaque than lawmakers, law enforcement, and special interests getting together and "black boxing" legislation. The draft document that the police force release at some point will be just that -- a draft -- and will be subject to "black boxing" I'm sure, before being adopted.

I find the whole idea a little frightening, as well. Fortuitously, the whole open-editing scheme was only advisory -- open, in other words, not democratic. I'm not quite ready to leave the lawmaking to the population in general, although I'm also not sure that they would muck it up any worse than black boxing does. The base of my objection is that it is bad logic to assume something is "good," i.e., morally correct, because it is the most popular. (The technical term, if I recall correctly, is the "Fallacy of appealing to the majority or a large proportion", although here it is deemed the "Fallacy of the appeal to popularity.") For a long while, a majority of people (well, Americans anyway) thought, apparently, that slavery was a good thing. Another (counter)example: imagine abortion. Depending on at what time period one considers, at some points the majority of Americans have thought that abortion, in one form or another, should be legal; while at other points, the majority of Americans have thought that abortion should not be a legal medical procedure. Regardless of what you think of the normative legal status of abortion, I think we can all agree that that normative legal status has not changed over the years simply because the majority opinion of that status has.

All of this gets to a more practical issue: is democracy really the best form of government? Plato, for example, theorized of the "philosopher king," hardly a democratic regime. But, in the interests of practicality, I've also been told that Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." How would you locate that philosopher king? It seems to me that another philosopher of old (perhaps even Pluto) once said something along the lines of The one who would govern best desires least to govern. Or something like that.

As always, I'm curious to hear what everyone has to say. And in related news, I am disappointed to report that the suggestion on remaining the national police to Yum Yum Teddy Bear Strike Force Z was rejected. A shame.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

On faith and "tradition"

Former girlfriend and close friend Casandra called today, and a post came up. She objected to my lumping together of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In a post about death, I wrote:

I'm speaking in general about the Islamic/Christian/Jewish tradition that
dominates Western culture. I'm not an expert in any of the three, but I know a
thing or two. (Please comment when I incorrectly generalize across the
traditions, or otherwise make a muck of things.)

As I mentioned I'm not an expert, but Casandra can claim some specific knowledge - her major is in religious studies (and she is now a graduate, I'm not - yet) and she's working on getting into grad school to go even further.

We didn't go into a long discussion about her objection: I invited her here. I'm very interested in hearing what she has to say - I hope she makes a comment. And, I'd like to hear yours. But now, it being a Saturday evening, and the weather being horrendous, I'm going to my local tavern. I'll see you tomorrow.

UPDATE: Disclosure

Those who know me well know that the closest thing I have to a religion is reading. And I read the online newsmag Slate with near fundamentalist zeal. So when Emily Yoffe posted one of her regular "Dear Prudence" columns, I wasn't hunting for anything in particular but rather following my daily ritual.

I rarely find anything of personal importance on her advice column, but read it to keep my ethical knives sharp. I often disagree with her, but I think that, too, is a big part of why I read her material - for the contrarian point of view she provides. She again provides that view in her latest column, where she writes about disclosure in relationships. (The pertinent item is the third letter down.)

Prudence/Yoffe receives this conundrum: boyfriend uses family computer and innocently discovers father's porn habit. Tell the girlfriend? Her response:

No, you don't tell your girlfriend everything. You don't tell her that the
blouse your colleague wore was really enticing. You don't tell her that the joke
she told wasn't funny. Even in the most open, healthy relationships, people
should and do hold things back from each other. (Snip) You accidentally
invaded the privacy of your girlfriend's father, so don't inflate the incident
by talking about what you discovered.

I definitely disagree with her process, and perhaps with her conclusion, as well. First, the process: I'm not interested in a hand-holding relationship in which I withhold stuff because it could be painful. Let's look at Prudence's two hypotheticals above: the hottie in the blouse and and bad joke.

There are two ways the cute co-worker situation could go. First, there are many beautiful people in the world, and they do not disappear when you begin dating someone. You shouldn't try and cut yourself off from the aesthetic when you commit to someone else, but you're making an observation, and hopefully your significant other has sufficient self-worth and faith in you as to not take offense. And the other possibility is that you might need to think about a different relationship, if you're sufficiently unhappy with your partner's aesthetic. Such an observation should lead to a conversation about what's wrong, and how to deal with it. Throwing it down into a hole and pretending it doesn't exist leads to an explosion down the road.

The bad joke situation isn't nearly as explosive, but important all the same. If your girlfriend tells a joke and you laugh when it sucks, well, she might tell it to someone else, who might say something about it. Let her know so she can retire the line from her arsenal. Even when you correct a mistake it is easy to do it all over again. Uncorrected mistakes beg for repetition.

Dealing with this specific situation - pop's porno, we'll call it - there are several issues to consider, and I think Prudence misses them all. The conflict is not between the guy and his girlfriend, but rather, between the guy and his girlfriend's father, methinks. But there is a lot of ground to consider.

First of all, what's wrong with porn? This question is hardly rhetorical. Specifically, what's wrong with a married man looking at pictures of naked women? (Or men.) The boyfriend doesn't know what the deal is, really. Maybe he looks at them with his wife. Maybe they actually belong to his wife. The point is that we should be honest about things. Lots of folks - lots of happily married folks, lots of happily dating folks, lots of single folks - use pornography frequently without serious detriment. Porn, close cousin to that oldest of all professions, is ubiquitous. And as people have been learning over and over again since the beginning of time, both porn and prostitution survive nearly any attack. There's a reason for that. I'm not a sociologist, but I'm sure that some significant part of the human condition does not want to be in a single-partner committed relationship. Now, perhaps such relationships' benefits outweigh their costs and are a good idea, but there is still a part of us that wants to mix it up. Porn would seem to be a way to do that without harming the relationship.

This consideration could go a whole hell of a lot deeper, but this is a pretty good first look at it. I don't think you have to tell anyone about the porn cache because it just isn't that big of a deal.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In the interests of full disclosure

I must have an excess of words to get rid of today. This post is again inspired by Lindsay, who posted a bit of a question, again, on her Facebook profile. She asks:

So then, does someone really know you if they don't know about your past? If you
don't tell them about all of those occurrences in your past, those instances
that helped truly define who you are now, can you really have a future?

I frequently throw out something I'm unsure about and write about it to try and come to a conclusion, soliciting comments to help along the way. In this circumstance, however, I've got a pretty good feeling about the answer, and I'm going to try and spell it out here, so you can comment and tell me how wrong I am. Let the fun begin!

First, a few of the assumptions I'm working on while writing this. Assumptions are important to disclose, because, well, I might assume different things than you, or Lindsay, might, and that could in turn affect how we think about things. If I do a good job laying things out here, we can have a clearer idea of what I'm talking about, and we can assure ourselves that any disagreements will be about actual differences of conclusion and not misunderstandings about our premises.

I assume that we're talking about close friendships and intimate relationships, not just the guy who happens to be sentenced to the cubicle next to mine. And, as Lindsay points out, I'm also talking about important life-melding events, not what "you had for lunch on April 14th ten years ago," as she puts it.

I come down on the side of full disclosure, every time. If you're hanging out with people you don't trust these intimate little details to, perhaps you should reconsider the company that you keep. And if they blow the lid on your bad experience, well, shame on them. And again, you might reconsider their friendship. But laying it all out, early, is easier than trying to dredge up the past months or years down the road, and it also helps establish a foundation of trust. It might be difficult because the screw-up was particularly embarrassing, or hurtful. But imagine how embarrassed you might be when the friend finds out about, and how hurt you'll be when they don't trust you any longer?

Here is a brief case study. I was once fingered for a fell deed, which I did not commit. At a later date - almost three years later - a former friend told my girlfriend about it, and how I was a bad person.

I had already had a discussion with my girlfriend about the experience, and how it hurt and what I learned. I also told her that, while difficult, I was trying to make the ubiquitous lemonade out of the situation, and that it had been an important struggle.

Former friend tells girlfriend potentially salacious tidbit - presented as but an accusation but tilted to be received as gospel. If I hadn't had the talk with my girlfriend, she would have been blindsided. But I had told her about it, and she asserted her familiarity with the sling, de-fanging its lingering venom. (Bad metaphor.) But I had told her about it, ans she asserted her familiarity with the sling, inoculating herself from its lingering venom. (A little better.)

This example shows how past situations - even when eventually cleared up - can come back to bite. To shift metaphors for a moment, consider a potentially negative part of your past as a mine in a field that we cross with our friends every day. I had cleared this problem up a long time ago, and my name was clear. I had defused the mine. But the motives of a former friend reconnected the charge in the bomb. By telling my girlfriend about the location of the mine, we were both able to steer clear of it, and when it detonated by itself, it threw dirt up into the air, hitting - and injuring - no one. Metaphor maxim: defuse mines, but remember them.

Another point to make is that I had the luxury of being right in the aforementioned situation. I think, however, that the rule of disclosure holds up in situations where we were in the wrong, as well.

Case study #2: I once fell asleep at the wheel, and drove my car into a creek. The week after I had been picked up for drunken driving. (Let's all say "Stupid" together.) It was the culmination of a bad month, really, that I had handled, really, badly. Like watching the line on the stock market, it was a recession, plunging me from a high into a spectacular low. I continue to deal with the mostly job searching consequences more than three years later. I probably could have learned many of the same lessons by reading about how much of a pain an OWI charge in the state of Iowa is, about contemplating how seriously such a conviction would mess me up for years and years and years, and thinking about how much money I would be wasting. But I might have lost sight of that. Having actually made the mistake, well, let me tell you, I know better now. And I'll always remember it.

This is also something that should be disclosed, early and often, to people who are in a position to need (in the case of potential employers), or deserve (friends), to know. Furthermore, it is something that anyone can find out, with little trouble. Criminal background checks are almost ubiquitous now in searching for any employment. And, yes, you too can run a background check on me. (At least in the state of Iowa, where it is free for many details. I've not resided outside of the state since I've been of legal driving age, when I began accruing tickets, so I don't know about Colorado or Wyoming. A piece of good disclosure: I haven't been so much as pulled over in over three years now. (Knock wood.))

There are two problems with concealing any sort of conviction. The first is that, as I mentioned above, they're almost impossible to hide. The second is that they are serious issues that should be disclosed, discussed, and reflected upon. A third problem is that obscuring such convictions is dishonest, and as Kant reminds us, that's bad.

So I'm all for disclosure. And if you ever run into me at my local tavern, I'm almost certainly be happy to chat you up about all sorts of things that most people consider too personal to talk about. I don't need a drink, just someone to talk to. I'm a very public person. Chalk it up to my college time in journalism, where transparency is lauded as king.

A final thought. You might be wondering why I would write about my drunken driving experience, when I've already mentioned it seems to be causing me problems finding a job. You may also be wondering why I was so intentionally vague about the situation in the first case study.

Anyone who will employ me deserves to know about the OWI, and I am, frankly, not interested in someone who knows about it and dismisses me on the spot. I think it shows a lack of critical thinking and sitaution - by - situation analysis on their part. It also means that I would likely be fired when they did find out about it. (A little self interest is OK, when balanced against the rights of others, methinks.) And maybe, just perhaps, you'll learn enough to avoid making my mistake.

As to the vagueness about the other case study. I don't go into detail because of a problem with people in general, and newspapers in specific. First, I'll address the newspaper issue. Newspapers love to publish the police blotter, and run stories about how someone got shot, and about how someone is now on trial for said shooting, and how they're subsequently executed. Why is this? Because people like reading said stories. What newspapers are lousy on reporting is the disposition of charges, accusations, and gossip. Instead of running the blotter, I would argue that newspapers should just run the outcomes of trials and plea arangements (which actually make up the lion's share of convictions). But they don't - because people aren't interested (or are they?). People generally aren't interested in the outcome of a situation. They read the charge, the accusation, the grand jury's topic of inquest, or hear some gossip. Innocent until proven guilty requires brainpower. Too many people (hopefully, no readers here), are incapable of that, or harbor some distrust of the cleared person even after the clearning.

Finally, I'd like to thank people who make stuff available for me to borrow, repackage, or readdress here. Lindsay gets a nod for inspiring a few posts, while Dr. Tom gets kudos and thanks for his HSUS link and some other material he hasn't agreed to make public (I haven't heard back from him on my request yet) but has helped me immensely. Casandra, close friend, receives my most gracious thanks for feedback, as does Lacey, for the comments. I hate to sound jaded, but I think I just touched on all four of this blog's readers. (Hint, hint: If I missed you, post a comment!)

UPDATE: If I died?

From friend and commenter Lacey:

Death used to scare me quite a bit, but ever since my
grandmother passed away, I'm hardly scared of it anymore. I think mostly because
I believe that she's in a better place, and that when I die, I'll also be in
that place with her. I've always found comfort in my faith in religion that I'll
be in a better place with God/Jesus, but it was hard to really grasp that until
my [grandmother] passed away.

When I write about faith on this blog, and I don't expound upon which particular faith I'm writing about, I'm speaking in general about the Islamic/Christian/Jewish tradition that dominates Western culture. I'm not an expert in any of the three, but I know a thing or two. (Please comment when I incorrectly generalize across the traditions, or otherwise make a muck of things.)

Faith plays a complicated role in how we look at the end of living. Death is usually viewed as a sorrowful occasion, with teary good-byes at the wake and moving eulogies delivered shortly thereafter. Sometimes, death is seen as a release, such as the whole Terri Shaivo situation. (As an aside, I would say this to those who thought that she should continue to receive nourishment: would you not lose your mind sitting inside your head for all of those years, if "she" was still in there somewhere? I would find such a death an immense relief, if I hadn't gone nuts by then. That's why I've got signed AMD's and POA's in the right hands.)

The faith interaction causes tension in some instances, and provides a justification for not feeling guilty in others. Selfishly, we miss the passing of the loved one. But we don't need to feel guilty about it, because, well, we're left here to toil and the other is in that better place. Since I am not an expert on faith, please leave your comments below.

Interestingly enough, Lacey continues on to note that she defines the quality, or worth, of her life, by entirely internal metrics, not external measures:
I don't think the point of my life is to leave anything behind, or even to have
people think of me after I've passed away, because I don't think that would
happen. Therefore, I probably won't feel I've lived my life fully until I get to
that point where I think to myself, "Ok, I think I've helped all the people I
could ever help", and as that probably would never happen, I'll always feel that
I could have done more in life.

What is better - or are both important? I would tend to lean toward the "both" side of the debate, although Lacey was just throwing her point of view out there, not presenting an argument for its adoption. The reason I would argue this: it is important to do some things because they are, in and of themselves, good. That is intrinsic value. But some things are not good of themselves, but rather are good for what they impart. Extrinsic value. Helping other people can be many things - a way to score points, a way to clear our conscience, or trying to effect a positive change in the people. Or is that too jaded? Discuss.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If I died?

Here is a fascinating, and discussion encouring, note (via Facebook) from Lindsay, a friend of mine:

[Are you afraid of dying?]

Are you? It's an interesting concept. All of my friends here on Facebook are very young, so it would be common to hear that death is scary.

I can't really decide.

The standard response would be that I'm really afraid because I haven't accomplished much in my life. I haven't graduated from college or gotten a job, built a family, or raised children. I don't feel like I've contributed to society, to humanity.

But then if I did die today, I think that the most important question to me would be asking if I told everyone I cared about that I loved them. Maybe that is enough.

I had a very depressing thought: I'm insignificant. It's not like if people didn't have me in their life to begin with that they would feel some void, like, "What is missing in my life?" and if they had only known me, that void would be filled. Of course I know that there are people who know me now that would miss me if I was gone, that I have impacted them in some way or another. If I died, there would be people who would be sad. It's not like they couldn't get over it and move on with their lives. Aside from my parents and brother, I want to know that I've impacted someone, at least one person, in my life that if I died today or tomorrow that they wouldn't forget me. They could go on in their life, of course being happy, and think about me often and smile. I want someone to have learned from me the way that I learned from them. I don't want to be forgotten.

Here are the first questions I had to offer:

This gets to a central question - perhaps the central question: what is the meaning of life? I suppose that to die, satisified, means that one has fulfilled the meaning of life. So what is that meaning?Many people have argued - persuasively - that the meaning of life is to leave the world better than it was when you arrived, or, perhaps to seek some clarity and speficity, to say, that the meaning of life is to have a positive impact. But how positive of an impact? And how would you ever measure such an impact? I would argue that is difficult, if not impossible, to make such a measurement but in the most extraordinary of cases, i.e., John Steinbeck, GW Bush, ML King, Hitler. Most of us just don't have the knowledge to make such determinations.

What's the meaning of life, again? I would propose this - not as the answer, but rather as a place to begin discussion: if you died, would you reasonably believe that you made a serious effort to exert a force for good upon those with whom you carried influence? Did you endlessly bitch, moan, and whine, and nothing else? Or did you endlessly bitch, moan, and whine, and try and make something better of it? Did you let your eyes gloss over with contentment to how well you've got it? Or did you let your eyes gloss over with contentment and try and make better of it?This is heavy shit. Worthy - indeed, demanding - of deep contemplation. What does death mean? What does life mean? How do we measure our success in either? Thanks for raising the question, and here's to hoping that the discussion is substantial. (Emphasis is both in original and mine, ha.)

Can you tell I was angling for a blog post?

Privacy in the age of expectation

First, a nod to everyone without microscopic vision: I'll leave my posts on "normal" size. It looks pretty suspect during the edit, but I must admit that the posted font size is rather diminished.

I haven't written the post yet, quite obviously, but I'd like to throw this out to my two or three beloved readers for input while I'm sharpening my knives. Due to the nature of people I'm (online) friends with: if you're reading this, please offer even some quick input. I exist in a relatively rare place. Most of my younger friends are all about diving right into Facebook, MySpace, et al., and my most my older friends are horrified by it. I'm both - horrified and an accessory to my own implication.

The question is thus: What about privacy? Should prospective employers be able to find out about my drunken driving three-plus years ago? (I'm disclosing it here, on the web, so I give up rights to whining later for myself, at least.) Should I have the right to refuse access to pictures of me drunkenly peeing on the dorm lawn from these same perspective employers - and should I be safeguarded from sanctions for protecting my privacy if I do so? (Note to perspective employers: there are no photos of me relieving myself -- that I know of.) Outside of the financial sector - and since we're having an open discussion here, let's talk about the financial sector, too - should perspective employers be able to run my credit rating?

As an incentive to discussion, I'd like to throw this little tidbit out here. At a presentation while I was in college some months ago, a bank rep said that crimes of dishonesty, e.g., theft, misrepresentation, were automatic disqualifiers (per law) to working at their business. But the rep also said that some potential blotches were perhaps OK: PAULA (Possession of Alcohol Under the Legal Age, in Iowa), house parties, public intox. Where should we draw the line? And, furthermore, should there be a difference between a ticket for keeping a disorderly house be taken the same as Facebook or MySpace photos of me doing so the same?

Bonus update: Honesty requires me to throw out this tidbit. Closest confidant, best friend, and former girlfriend Casandra alerts me that the discussion I wrote of betwixt father and I occurred on Christmas evening, not Christmas Eve evening. Twenty-four hours, not so long ago.

UPDATE: Only some scars are visible

From Dr. Tom: A link to the United States Humane Society site about dog bites. I was disappointed about the post op care that they offer, but I also understand that they're about animals, and not M.D.'s running around offering advice about what happens after your unfortunate self gets a chomp.

If you've got children, you should check this out. They're going to run into dogs frequently.
If you've got dogs, you should check this out. They're going to run into children frequently.

This sort of thing could have saved Aaron's life -- if the dogs' owner had read it, and applied it.

Philosophically speaking, I know that the dog had nothing to do, morally, with my bite -- it was a response based upon a conglomeration of conditioning and genetics. In the original post, I may have given too much weight to genetics. From the afore linked to HSUS site:

The breeds most commonly involved in both bite injuries and
fatalities changes from year to year and from one area of the country to
another, depending on the popularity of the breed. Although genetics do
play some part
in determining whether a dog will bite, other factors
such as whether the animal is spayed or neutered, properly socialized,
supervised, humanely trained, and safely confined play significantly
greater roles
. Responsible dog ownership of all breeds is the
key to dog bite prevention.

(Italics in original, boldface mine.) Appologies to responsible pit-bull owners.

New tag in this post: intellectual honesty. If you want to know when I've been wrong, search for that tag, and if you see a place where I admit being incorrect and don't see the tag, ask that I apply it. Being wrong is part of the process to getting to being correct. And if you see a place where I'm wrong and don't know it yet -- tell me. I gain more in terms of knowledge and possible bad things happening down the road learning that I was wrong than your ego is likely to gain by telling me so. But I'll give you credit for showing me the error in my ways -- we can both win out.

Dogs are not moral agents. Sometimes they poo on the floor. But they aren't "bad" for having done so. They just haven't been conditioned propertly -- the owner's failure. I know this.

And, of course, wanting M.D.'s running around, I checked WebMD. M.D.'s running around online. Wonderful!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

UPDATE: Only some scars are visible

Well, after a bit of introspection, and some very helpful input from friends, I ran down a sheriff's deputy to find out exactly what my legal requirements were. He was helpful enough to tell me that I did not, in fact, have an obligation to report the bite. I didn't ask further whether seeking medical attention would obligate those professionals to report, since over a week into the situation I've developed no symptoms and, well, a week is a little late for anything. On the advice of a friend, I'll contact the dogs' owners' and suggest that they take precautions to ensure that a similar situation is less likely to reoccur, and of course, that they exercise caution letting the dogs around children.

The nose hasn't fallen off yet, although I'm more sure than ever that I suffered a hairline fracture. I've got to take extra special care for awhile not to say anything likely to get me smacked in the chops, which, for those of you that know me, might be a bit of a task.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 19, 2007

Only some scars are visible

Posted by Picasa
Update: I continue to make small mechanical changes as I come across them. Everyone needs an editor.

The photo quality here is quite sub-par. That's actually fine by me, and probably by any readers who aren't quite iron of gut. Nevertheless, if you notice a dark spot on the bottom of my nose - well, that isn't my nostril. Or at least it wasn't originally.

Saturday evening I was walking with a friend after she had suffered through a rather rough evening of drama and attack at my local tavern. We arrived at our destination, a house of a mutual friend. She went in, while I stayed on the porch long enough to finish my cigarette. When I had concluded my Marlboro, I opened the door and stepped into the entry.

Everyone else was milling about further in the house. Several dogs - pit bulls, I believe - came up to regard my presence. I bent down to offer a friendly pat. With the first dog, this was accepted. Still stooping, I reached for the second dog, who decided to take a small chunk of my nose.

I recoiled, and retreated out the door as I had come. Another friend was sitting outside, fortuitously proffering rides for those who were too inebriated to drive, or for shoe-leather bums such as myself. I requested she shuttle me the four blocks to my front door, only muttering something about having been bitten and that I was bleeding. In my classical underplayed approach, it might easily have been construed as if I had bitten my own tongue, or perhaps suffered some other minor mishap.

I gained my front porch and hastened to the bathroom, where I thoroughly doused the wound in rubbing alcohol and what I mistook for antibacterial cream. (It turned out to be antifungal cream, actually - I suppose I've nothing to worry about if all that that dog had in his mouth was athlete's foot.) Now, almost 48 hours after the incident, I've continued with alcohol and now real antibacterial goop. The nose has a nice scab on it, but does not appear to be infected. I yesterday consumed two aspirin. That's been about it.

I suspect that I may have also suffered a hairline fracture of my nose. This has happened before, and I had almost forgotten the sensation. But, alas, I couldn't quite shake it before a reminder.

The day after, I tracked down the friend I had walked to the house to gain assurance that all of the dogs on the property were properly vaccinated. She happened to be with one of the owners, and assured me (over the phone), that they were. So I wouldn't have to put myself through the rabies series, hurray. I wasn't sure if this was a concern with dogs' mouths (a RN has since assured me that it is not), but I had gotten a booster for lock-jaw when I suffered an unfortunate boating accident two years ago, so that was good. Keep splashing on alcohol and the antibacterial, the RN said, and I should be fine.

Question: Why didn't I go to ER, and why have I not sought professional medical care in the time since? I am nominally unemployed, and assuredly uninsured. Perhaps the dogs' owners' homeowners' insurance might cover my medical expense? Perhaps. I doubt these folks are homeowners, however; and I seriously doubt that they carry renters' insurance. Perhaps the landlords' homeowners' insurance might cover it? Perhaps. Nevertheless, I felt sufficient with the alcohol and goop treatment, especially in light of the nurse's opinion and the general metrics of the situation.

Another detail: when I had learned the status of the dogs' vaccinations, I also ran into the kind woman who had driven me home the previous evening, when she related that another man had been either bitten or scratched that same evening, also on his nose. It is uncertain whether this was by the same dog; indeed, I doubt I could pick out the one dog out of the four I saw at the house that evening.

Today I related the story to another friend unrelated to, and without knowledge of, the incident. His reaction was quite immediate: "I'd grab a shotgun and kill the fucker." I doubt I have the mettle to pop a dog, even one that quite likely intended to kill me, point blank, and I have no intention of finding out. But I also understood my friend. Quite well, having lost a lob of flesh to the thing.

And here, if they had not yet been sufficiently confused, I shall add another bit of background before I try and untangle my ball of string. About four and a half years before I was born, my father's second son was killed by dogs while he played outside. I will reserve the particular horrors of that tale, and say only here a few things that warrant mention.

Aaron was playing on the day after his fifth birthday. Young. I believe at least one of the two dogs, and perhaps both, was a pit bull. This caused great harm to my family, harm that has persisted even in the 29 years since the incident. I have not told my father of the instant case. (I live with my folks. I've seen dad twice since I was bitten, but have not seen him in such a way that he would easily spy the injury.)

Some will say that I should tell dad, while others will say that, if possible, I should obscure or otherwise obfuscate the details of the event. Some others will say that they are unsure. I am of the third group, but have also forced myself to think for a little bit and try to come up with a solution. My provisional answer is that I will tell dad about the incident when he either sees my face (hardly a given, given to our differing schedules), or more preferably, when I have taken a final action in the matter.

Question: What is the proper final action? This is the real question in the matter. Some parts of it are plain (to me; I beg your advise should you differ), and others cause anguish.

My first admission must be that I am compromised by my family's history. However, I do not think that this automatically disqualifies me from arriving at a sound judgment, but it certainly does add a wrinkle of complexity. I must first strive to disentangle my own issues from the subject to try and think more clearly about the instant case.

It is my best legal understanding that I have a duty to report the attack, and to report it as it was: unprovoked. I also have no ethical qualm against that duty. Unfortunately, this is where my clarity ends.

I have never attempted to properly address my own conflicted feelings on dogs. I can say several things, however, and try to work toward a solution from there. I love animals, in the sense that I pet friends' pets, I feed the neighborhood stray cats (likely not good), and I abhor any unnecessary violence against animals. When I was a young child, my folks had a dog, Yukon, a half Siberian Husky, half Australian Sheppard. I am generally well accepted by pets - I've never before been the victim of violence by one, but some have refused my pet. I've never pressured, chased, or otherwise accosted them once they made their reticence clear. I would like a dog, something mellow and friendly and companion-like. (I'm thinking of the hound or lab, or perhaps another shep, that rides shotgun in my pickup wherever I go.)

Obviously, I never knew my brother. (He died in 1978; I was born in 1983.) I've considered him my little brother since I've been mature enough to consider him, as opposed to his doom. I occasionally walk to his grave, half a mile from my (folks') house, and... I don't know what I do. I don't pray, I don't talk to him, I don't miss him. I suppose I reflect, mostly, about what his absence has meant for our family. On a very few occasions, I have walked to his grave with a close friend and reflected audibly. I never cry, but I always tear.

I never asked dad about things, either. Sure, sometimes I might ask about Aaron, but never about what happened. Like a piece of lore that comes down from generation to generation, I had gleaned bits and pieces of the story, much from my mother. And then last Christmas, after everyone had gone to bed, I went to my local tavern.

I came home at an advanced hour and in an advanced state. I can't remember the conversation - but I know things now I didn't know before, although I'm not sure which bits those are - hell, I can't even remember if I woke pa or if he was already awake when I rejoined the house in the small hours. (Christmas Eve, the evening to which I refer, is a smash night for the local taverns.) I remember, though, that we talked, that I cried, I balled, I talked, I asked questions, he answered as he could. I suppose now that I needed to have this conversation with dad at some point, and I imagine it was more about me than Aaron. I was just concluding a particularly poor period of my life - dropping out of college, losing my longtime girl, getting a drunk driving, driving my car into the creek, et al - and had gotten back on track - getting back into college, getting back into a serious and rewarding relationship, not getting any more drunken driving.

That is all to say that I don't think that I got much about pa from that talk, except that he confirmed my general knowledge of the incident and filled in some blanks, and said in his way a few small but important things. While I can not sort out what I knew before and what blanks he filled in that night, I know that I learned a lot about Aaron's death, and about Aaron, as well. It surprises me, that in my severe state, I remembered any of it, but I suspect that I remember all of it. I just can't remember what it is that it is. And I certainly don't know - am afraid to ask - what that conversation meant for dad (a great disappointment, that I can not ask). I hope that it did him some service; that it did not merely serve to tear open wounds.

Full stop. Back to the instant case.

These are the things I think are likely true:
Dogs are not moral agents. (Confidence*: Near certain)
Dogs should not be killed without good (read: seriously compelling) reason. (Confidence: Near certain)
Assuming that it was the same dog that attacked the other gentleman and I, this dog threatens to injure - or kill - again. (Confidence: Very high)
Assuming that two dogs were involved, both dogs are dangerous (i.e., likely to injure again). (Confidence: High)
People have the right to do what they want, so long as their action (or inaction) does not directly harm others. (Confidence: Very high to near certain, although this is not a proper or full exposition of a well thought about ideal)
A person's action (or inaction) that directly results in the harm of another is immoral (and should be stopped). (Confidence: Very high)
People keeping pets that are very likely to injure or kill others - including the owners' children - should have such animals removed. (Confidence: Very high. Assuming that injuring or killing others is a harm, the previous statement, if true, affirms this)

* On confidence: It's difficult for me to give specific probabilities here, but I try to lay down a few ideas:
Certain: I'm not sure I'll ever find anything to be completely certain about beside stuff like "Red is a color."
Near certain: The highest level of confidence that I will ever assign to anything but the most fundamental claim - unless someone changes my mind.
Very high: Call this in the neighborhood of 75 - 90%, but that's a neighborhood.
High: Again, speculative, but maybe 60 - 75%.
Probable: Of the above, only "Certain" is not probable (because, of course, it is certain). However, when I say only "Probable," I mean to say that I think a given proposition is at least 50% + x likely, where x represents the smallest number. "Probable > 50%."
Again, credit to Dr. Tom Gilbert, Morningside College, whom bestowed a form of the probability stuff upon me.

So now what? I provisionally conclude that the dog that attacked me, and if a different dog attacked the second gentleman than that dog also, should be removed from the residence - likely meaning put down, or not to be PC about it, killed. This agrees with my friend's previously stated opinion: "Grab a shotgun..." insomuch as, well, you get the point. However, a few other notes. A family that keeps four pit-bulls is likely attached to them (I would say that is the case here), and they are valued pets. These folks may even, and not without precedent, think of their dogs as members of the family. Think Katrina evacuees refusing airlift unless the dog could come.

I am myself ambiguous even now, even with my family history. I know the dog is not mean in the moral sense: it did not mean - and could not have meant - any malice. Fingering one of the four dogs could well be a death sentence for all of them, since I doubt my ability to finger a specific one. It is a member of a family, even if it is a hostile member ready to strike at the smallest provocation or - as I believe in my case - none at all.

These folks live near a school. Children may damned well be at risk. The dog injured me only barely, unless you consider the notch I will likely always wear on my beak. But it could have done much more severe damage. I didn't do anything more offensive to the dog than offer a pet, something a passing schoolchild might well do. There doesn't need to be another grave in town - or anywhere, really - for another child like Aaron. There doesn't need to be another hole, in another family, like that.

But, then, should we kill off and outlaw all "mean" dogs? How nanny a country should we become? Who should get to pull the trigger, as it is?

More provisional conclusions. These dogs - for the sake of safety and my inability to identify the specific, all four of them, all as members of a dangerous breed - should be removed to a place where they will not have (rampant) chances to injure or kill. If such a retreat can not be located (which I feel likely), they should be put down. I should exercise less caprice and more apprehension as to which pets I try and pet.

This is all very first draft. And quite personal. But I invite your critiques, especially from strangers who might be able to lend a clear mind. I can't find the strength to get angry and these dogs, even as I wonder if they might not live out the duration of their natural lives without harming again. But, somehow, I seriously doubt it. (Confidence: see above.) If one of these dogs hurts someone else, especially a little kid - Christ that's a burden.

Full stop. Until I hit post, there wasn't a mention of Aaron Green on the web. Here's to you, brother.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Introduction - Method

A brief introduction is in order. Mayhap a mission statement, or something a little more serious...

I intend this blog to consider a number of topics with which I have no claim of expertise. I like thinking about politics, economics, technology and science in general. I really enjoy thinking about philosophy. And after I've thought about such things, I like to write about them, for two (common) reasons. At least one of them is quite selfish: I hope, that by putting down the first draft of my thoughts, some intrepid soul might find some flaw, and point it out, correcting me. (The corollary is too plain to point out, but here it is, my second reason: I hope someone might occasionally see that I've said something right, correct, true, or just elegant.)

I have received my training in technical letters, specifically, journalism. I have also had the benefit of a few philosophy courses in ethics and informal logic. For those of you who are trained in philosophy, welcome. I hope that you do not find my lack of reading in the subject too daunting. I will not quote the classics (I wouldn't know how). For those of you who are trained in writing, or who simply find your skills sharper than mine, I hope you will not find my style abrasive. I, somehow, managed to study journalism at a college and at a university (or "an university?") without ever finding a mechanics class, though I searched.

Please keep this in mind as I raise mostly questions.

I've given my main interests, specifically as I see them impacting this blog. However, I am curious and have many interests. I have not set these things down as boundaries, but simply as guesses as to what will often find its way here.

And now, a brief lesson in logic. Caveats: I'm not accredited. I haven't even received my BS yet. I am a student of logic much as I am a student of Scotch: I have limited experience from a limited perspective, and from these flow my opinions and some little knowledge.

Right. Logic.

Arguments can either be of the sort that occur over boasts made mightily at the corner tavern, or a technical device used to get from what we know to what we don't, or to prove something observed. Of those three sorts of arguments, I'll concern myself with the latter two, and mush them together. They commonly have a rough form:

Here are the parts, in action:
Premise: I have no Scotch.
Conclusion: I have no Glevlivet.

We humans are generally fortunate in that we possess an excellent talent for logical reasoning, although we often shoot ourselves in the foot by failing to exercise, develop and execute that talent. That little tiny argument above is a good argument in one sense: if the premise is true (and if you are aware that Glenlivet is a brand of Scotch) than the conclusion must logically follow. We know this.

This is a poor argument, however, in that the premise is not true. I do have Scotch. But what does that tell us about my Glenlivet provision? Nadda. I might have Johnnie Walker, or Chivas. Maybe some boutique stuff that I'd only mention to make myself feel highfalutin. Once again, we already know this. Let us extract a few lessons:

Dr. Tom's lessons on logic
1: If the evidence, or premises, are assumed to be true, do they reasonably lead to the conclusion?
2: Are these premises true?

Dr. Tom Gilbert is a professor of philosophy at my (almost) alma mater, Morningside College. All of the material on logic here is what I remember from his classes on the subject. I have a textbook he co-authored on the shelf right handy here to me, but I have neglected using it here to force myself to paraphrase, thus avoiding ripping him off (undesired even when acknowledged, if a sign of laziness) and assuring my sense of self-worth that I haven't been lazy. If I've done his material justice, the credit is his for excellent instruction. If I haven't, the fault is mine. Dr. Tom has many more lessons on logic, but these are sufficient for now.

I know this is a hell of an entrance fee to pay to a blog. But it's almost over now. I'll build on these concepts from time to time, continuing to borrow heavily for Dr. Gilbert. Before you get excited that you're auditing a course, remember: audits don't get credit; he's the one with the "Ph.D." stuff; and you really should know this. Really. And if anyone asks, please say you're not: I'd hate it if Morningside billed me for your tuition, and Dr. Gilbert might want royalties or something (I'm sure not, gulp).

When I'm writing, keep an eye out for my arguments. In the real world, few arguments are as simple as the example I gave above. There is usually much more than a single premise, and very often I won't even include all of my evidence because I assume you know of it. Sometimes there are multiple conclusions that can be drawn from the same premises. And, often, the conclusions of some arguments form the evidence for others. I can hardly believe that you're reading this for free - can you believe that I paid for it? And that I think it was worth so much that I write about it after the fact?

The point is that some arguments are lousy, and I have a habit of making such lousy arguments. We all do. What I am trying to encourage is a method to sharpen our discourse. And any time I can make Scotch a teaching device, you had better believe that I'll bite.

If you're a glutton for this sort of thing, I suggest that textbook I referenced, Everyday Logic, Textbook and Workbook, by George Bowles and Thomas E. Gilbert, revised by Gilbert, copyright 2000. It is published in-house by Morningside College, and isn't the sort of thing you're likely to find on Amazon. But if you contact the campus bookstore and ask nicely, they might have a spare copy. Maybe. The Wikipedia entry on logic is quite helpful as well, but, well, it just isn't the same. I'll paraphrase as much as I can without feeling like I'm stealing.

No mission statement this time. Probably for the best, at this point.