Sunday, August 25, 2013

Appreciation in the "Real World"

     I'm sure most of the people who may end up reading this blog have had a job at some point in their lives. Whether it was for a day, a week, or several years. We've all been behind the counter. Out on the floor. At the desk. What have you.

     My first job had very little interaction with my coworkers and superiors. There was a bit of electronic correspondence, and a face to face meeting every few months. But nothing to really remember. For someone like me, that might have been a good thing.

     My current work is fairly steady. I go in five to six nights a week, I work in a certain section of the building, I do my job, I go home. It has gotten to be fairly routine. But the one thing that hasn't changed much is that I don't have any real talks with my superiors about my job performance.

     The only time I get feedback is when someone else catches an error I have made. This usually means the other shift, since working nights leaves us short handed and untrusted. But it also means that the only impression I have of the day crew personnel, and the managers in particular, are that they are out to find out every little thing I've done wrong and punish me for it.

    Most of the time, I can shrug this off. I can ignore it and remind myself that as little of them as I see, they see just as little of me. And that the one percent (or less!) of your mistakes are often the focus of what others are going to want to talk to you about. No news is good news, right? You would think so.

     But I have my one year review coming up in the next month. And for the last ten months, I've been doing my job. Getting the same pay, day after day. But my responsibilities are FAR beyond what they were when I received my last review.

    But is appreciation for a job well done truly reflected in a simple raise? Or the addition of a few benefits months later? What kind of response do we need to know that we are truly doing a good job, and that our work is being noticed? Is it even being noticed when we do our jobs correctly?

     These are the thoughts on my mind. And as I dive through my own mind, I've come to realize that the lack of communication has jaded me. Yes, I think I deserve to be paid far more than I am. If only because someone who is still learning the job gets paid just as much as I do for effectively running an account for an entire shift. While doing the majority of the work for that account. And training others how to work in that account. Etc, etc. But is it right for me to think this?

    Is it reasonable to expect a jump in pay just because I have accepted more responsibility? Or was it my duty to argue for commensurate pay raises as these duties were piled upon me? Would it be fair to my coworkers, who have (for the most part) been working there longer?

     I sometimes wonder if I actually deserve to be paid more, or if it is just a sign of my frustration with the way my life is currently going. Our troubles are not always so easy to see and to put labels to. And I fear I may end up acting out in ways that will harm my long-term ability to work in this industry. Not just at this company, but in general. To become jaded to the reality of this life may make it impossible for me to be happy doing work that I was once proud of.

Growing up sucks!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


I think, therefore I am.

A wonderful basis for the belief in our own existence. But, what does the great philosopher Descartes follow that up with? A "leap of faith" straight into Judao-Christian belief structures. I, for one, do not believe that we can trust anything that immediately deludes itself into believing that our very existence, and sanity, are due to an omniscient and all-powerful God.

Now. This isn't going to be a rant going into the basics of philosophy or anything of the sort. Instead, I'd like to propose the theory that people can trust in their own existence without the power of God, to an extent.

Follow along with me, if you can. I believe that thinking (therefore existing) is a good basis for our trust in our own existence. I won't dispute this. However, we have to reach a conclusion on the next step before we can move forward. And while Descartes stuck God into the picture as a way of trusting that a "Great Deceiver" is not just playing a trick on us, I believe the leap to an equally illogical character is just as bad for basic trust.

We DO have power. We are not helpless. Or so we think. So, I present this as an alternative. We can assume that our senses tell us what is real. For us. Because if what we perceive matches with what we remember, then how can we detect the falsehood of a varied existence? If we ARE bound in a reality of our own imagining, we have been living there for a long time. It has BECOME our reality, at that point. As such, we can assume (to an extent) that we are real and that what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and remember are all real as well. We have no other way of proving or disproving what we have.

So. We take that assumption for granted. It may not be 100% foolproof, but the other choices lead to insanity. And we don't want to be locked up in our own minds, do we? So we move forward.

The world of our memories and our senses lead to many things. We perceive things differently than other humans based on the filters that we have grown to trust. A white couple comes into a crowded restaurant immediately behind a black family with two children. But the white couple gets seated first. Is this racism? Is it because the dining area had a small table in the middle of the floor open up first? Did the white couple have an appointment? Answer this (In your own mind. I can't hear you!), which of these questions makes the most sense to you? Did you leap to a conclusion after reading the description of the event?

These are the filters that we need to be aware of in our lives. They are the power that our minds hold over reality. Each of us, alone, may not be able to move mountains. But if you get enough people behind the idea, that mountain DOES move.

It is up to the individual to look at things that offend them. Or, maybe, that offend others. And to think about WHY these various emotions are occurring. Is it something that you feel is justified? Do you believe that others are looking at you negatively because of how you react to various circumstances? If there is a problem, it may not be with the other people involved. But if it IS, it may not be something that they are consciously doing.

So, how do we change? (Or change others?) This is the most difficult part of accepting that our minds and our perceptions shape reality. We have to take responsibility for the problems that surround us. Not by pointing out the flaws to others. Because that type of action usually causes our "opponents" to shut their minds to us. But instead, we need to talk to them. Calmly. And try to find out if any of that fault lies in our own way of thinking.

Can we change the world? Yes. But only if enough humans (or projections, if Descartes was correct and there IS a Great Deceiver out there!) are willing to take the time to understand WHY something is a problem. And not just the fact that it IS a problem.

Friday, June 8, 2012


The US educational system has been degrading over the years. What was once the greatest system in the world (debateably) has become something of a joke. We have classrooms stuffed with kids who, while they may start off wanting to learn, have come to realize that their education doesn't really begin until they hit college. Our educational system is so test oriented, and provides so few real world skills, that the smartest students work their butts off to keep their grades up. And nothing else. Do the work, ace the tests. Move on to a school that will actually teach them what they need to know.

But what happens to those students who don't make it in college? We have a, rather large, sub-set of the population that never makes it through college. Or, if they do, do it in their late 20's or later. After they've had a chance to go out and flip burgers for a few years. What part of our current educational system actually helps students SUCCEED in life?

Our teachers are constantly under attack by government and private entities that insist that they are to blame for lower test scores. We have a national budget for education that either cannot or WILL not standardize what is being taught in our k-12 schools. We have parents who are happy when their kids are old enough to go to school because they no longer need to pay for day care. And then there are the kids who, if they aren't in the top of their class, just don't care if their grades dip because they know they are going to be working in the local market ANYWAY.

I've admitted in earlier posts that I'm not really that old. So what I have, is my own personal experience. From the elementary school who's principal purposefully undercut a program designed to challenge students who were bored in the normal classrooms, to the day we were no longer allowed to bring peanut butter cookies on campus because it might cause another student's peanut allergies to flare up. I remember the weeks of teaching dedicated to how to score well on the (insert current acronym here) standardized testing. These tests changed every couple of years! How 'standard' can they be if they keep being changed and adjusted? And how does teaching students how to fill out a scantron sheet qualify as teaching us life skills?

Some of these problems have to do with internal politics. The top positions in our educational system are not held by educators. Or even former educators. School boards and the superintendant of schools? Elected offices. His assistants? Hired by him, or his predecessors. And let's not go into too much detail on my opinion of principals and vice-principals. But actual teachers come in pretty low on the decision making ladder. They have a curriculum that is often dictated to them by people who have never tried to teach in a classroom full of kids. They have budgets that are set by people who don't know what their classrooms need. While beaurocrats and managers DO have a place, I do not believe that they should be the only ones deciding how our children should learn. Or what it takes to teach them.

Of course, all these teachers are people as well. So there is a lot of variance in the quality of teachers that can be found in the schools around our nation. Some are in it to help out the next generation. Some thought it would be a comfy job that they would never get kicked out of. And some...  well. Their reason for becoming teachers is not polite to mention. Many of that first sub set are the teachers that can inspire their students. They go the extra mile to encourage those who have an interest or aptitude in a subject to pursue it. But even these wonderfully intentioned teachers can make mistakes. Or get burned out by the political infighting that goes on when any group of people get together. As with all things, I'd rather not blame one whole set of people for all the problems in an institution. But rather, I'd like to see WHO the problem people are, and find ways of removing them from a position where they can cause damage. We already have a shortfall of teachers in various subjects. Math and science teachers seem to be in high demand at the moment. So removing the problem teachers isn't always a viable solution, unless they do something truly dreadful. What can we do, as a nation, to encourage those who want to teach to step up and start doing it? It may require more funding so that teachers will actually be paid WELL, rather than being near the bottom of the ladder for jobs they can get with their math and science degrees.

Unfortunately, the shift towards charter schools has not helped our public education system. The wealthier families no longer send their kids to the public schools. These same families are the most likely to encourage and assist their children in their academic endeavors. With these "higher achievers" (note, I did not say smarter) children moving into private schools, the public education centers are looking worse and worse by comparison. It is a constant push from those who want to send government money to private institutions that are encouraging the charter schools. Forget the fact that many of these charter schools are religious in nature. Forget that they have more money available to them by dint of being paid by the parents themselves, and not subject to government (local and federal) budget changes. These schools get to teach ANY curriculum they want. No fact checking. No standardization at all. How does this serve our cultural interests? It is bad enough that
different counties in a state can have VERY different curriculums. But to have a situation where every single school can do that? It leaves our colleges and universities to catch up any student that came from one of these schools on what they SHOULD know prior to entering higher education.

With the globalization of so many of our manufacturing industries, we need to step up our education system. We need to start at the bottom. Implement a standardized curriculum starting in the first grade, and working its way up through high school. A curriculum that will prepare our children to both head to college, and for finding that crappy part-time or full time job right out of high school that will allow them to AFFORD college. Pitting our schools against each other for funding does not help our students to grow and prepare for life outside of education. It forces our schools to teach towards what they will be paid for. And that isn't what the real world is expecting.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Last week, I gave all of you (Yes, YOU!) a taste of my opinion about the political parties
in the US. Today, you get the flip side of it. I am going to go into what a "Liberal" political party should probably be doing. And comparing that to what our current brand of "Liberal" is actually doing.

Now, let's start off with the same copypasta as we did last time:

   [lib-er-uhl, lib-ruhl] Show IPA
1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. ( often initial capital letter ) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible,
especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal
belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional
ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
12. of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts.
13. of, pertaining to, or befitting a freeman.
14. a person of liberal principles or views, especially in politics or religion.
15. ( often initial capital letter ) a member of a liberal party in politics, especially of
the Liberal party in Great Britain.

Wow. That is a long "definition" for the word. We could make "Liberal" into a lot of things. For the purpose of this blog post, please ignore numbers 2, 3, 6, 12, 13, 14, and 15. From this definition, it seems that "liberal", generally, means to be open and tolerant. Though, personally, I prefer the first one. "Favorable to progress or reform". I like that.

Let's start by rambling on about how liberal our "Liberal" party may be. This party has long espoused the idea that people should have the rights that everyone else does. It doesn't matter if you are white, black, yellow, orange, male, female, transsexual or asexual. There are rights that our Constitution guarantees and those rights should be extended to ALL citizens. Now, that sounds like a really good thing. But what else do they stand for? Do they hope to get all of us to follow a religion? No. Do we all need to give up our lives and let the government dictate what we can do for a living? No. So, what do they stand for?

That last question is something that has crossed my mind and settled in as some unanswerable quandary. I can't think of any specific thing the entire party stands on. Other than, "Our country isn't perfect. Let's try to fix it." I don't just mean this for their campaigning. Every two years they seem to have a bunch of individuals who carry the Party Tag(tm), but very few issues that all of them seem to agree on. This is in stark contrast to the "Conservative" party. And this, in my not-so-humble opinion, makes it harder to hold them to task for not following their word. While I like people who are flexible, the purpose of a party is to bring people of a similar outlook together, and to help pool
resources to get them into office. About the only thing they all agree on is that they are not "Conservative". And that just doesn't ring true when you look at what they are known for doing.

In the last few years, we have had very few policy changes that have hit the national news. Well, to my knowledge. These issues are simple: Health care reform. The Bush tax breaks came up for renewal. SOPA/PIPA. Wait, have others hit the national discussion? Because they seem to have slipped below my radar. So, let's take a look at what the "Liberal" party has done in these three cases.

Health care reform. Something that all of the candidates in 2008 touched on in one form or another. It was a major issue that our current president brought up, and who made it a priority after he was voted into office. We can look at this from both sides, liberal and conservative. Please note, I am not capitalizing those words. It is a project that required a bit of ambition. And writing new laws rather than just modifying existing ones to make it work. It seems to be a very liberal project. And one designed to have a lasting and progressive effect on our country. However, a standard "Conservative" value is to protect existing policies. Such as Medicare. Which is, wait..  is it health care from the government? And it is 10x more efficient than privatized health insurance? Hmm. From an economic perspective, this might seem to be a conservative idea. One that is designed to keep people healthy and working, while cutting down the costs associated with it. However, it is a very loose interpretation to call it conservative, so I won't be so liberal as to call it that. +1 liberal to the Liberal Party for trying to get this project up and running. Yes, I said try. They failed miserably at setting up anything other than mandating that everyone buys into the current privatized health insurance scheme.

Now, this issue almost managed to shut down our government. The next major issue that crossed my radar was the Bush tax cuts coming up for renewal. In this, the Liberal Party put forth the radical idea that those who could still afford to have their taxes raised should no longer benefit from these tax cuts that have made it so difficult for our country to meet its budgeting needs. Now, let us remember the definition of conservative from last week. To keep the same or return to a previous state. This would seem to be a very conservative idea. To keep those who are barely making due at the current rates, and rolling back the rates of those who can afford to lose a little more of their pay check every month. No real changes to existing tax code. No huge shifts in how things are being handled. And, heck, with all the loopholes..  very few "rich" people would end up paying more anyway. But they had to fight tooth and nail to try to get this done. And caved rather than letting the government shut down completely. Kudos to them for doing the conservative thing and preserving the status quo rather than shaking things up. Wait, the conservative thing? Weren't they the "Liberal" party?

While I don't believe that complete shut down or dismantling of our government is a good idea, these "Liberal" politicians need to learn how to push for change. And how to shape the national discourse so that truly progressive ideas may be considered again. This country is a bit messed up! But the only folks willing to change it seem to be in it for the wrong reasons. Now, where were we? Oh, right.

SOPA/PIPA. The third topic that has crossed my radar in the last four years. This beautiful piece of legislation was almost passed, with plenty of support from both sides of the aisle. I'm not sure I can be proud of that, given how liberal it was with expanding the rights of companies. No, I didn't say copyright holders. I said companies. But copyright is something I'll get into another week. I can understand this being liberal in favor of companies. But how does this help support and expand the personal liberties of everyone who lives in this country? Does it support their general concept of helping improve the average person's life? I don't think so. It had the potential to stifle the spirit of anyone that tried to compete with the major companies. Companies who, generally, have enough lawyers on staff that taking them to court isn't worth it. While the implementation of this law seems to have a very liberal bent, I would have to classify it as a conservative endeavor. Something that tries to support and strengthen what IS at the expense of what might be.

Our Liberal Party may be willing to say that they stand for everyone. And, for the most part, they follow through on it. Offering up legislation that would expand the rights of those who are having issues. Or trying to find ways of evening the tax burden across all of our wonderful citizens. However, they fail miserably at the standing part. Time and again they give up any advantages they might have had to try to get concessions from their Conservative Party fellows. And they are being taken advantage for it. I sincerely hope they can find a few members who are willing to stand up and say, publicly, that they are looking for actual debates with their opposites on the political spectrum. But I do not have faith that such a thing will happen in my life time.

Tune in next week for something slightly less political.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Conservatism in the US

Now, I'm sure anyone who is reading this blog already knows what political party is claiming to be conservative in the US. In this blog post, I am going to go over what they claim to stand for. And what I believe conservatism actually means. To facilitate this discussion, I am going to offer a little copypasta in the form of the definition for conservative.

   [kuhn-sur-vuh-tiv] Show IPA
1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.
4. ( often initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to the Conservative party.
5. ( initial capital letter ) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Conservative Jews or Conservative Judaism.

Now. As you can see from the above spam, there are many definitions for conservative in the online version of the dictionary. The last two are, in my opinion, largely useless. They don't mean ANYTHING unless the groups they are referring to are actually conservative. And that is why I am going into my thoughts on Conservatism in politics.

Now, the Conservative Party (I am not going to write it out. Bear with me) in the US has been that way for quite a while. They claim to uphold the ideals of Limited Government, Lower Taxes and a Focus on America. No. The rampant capitalization of that last sentence was not a mistake. I consider those terms to be used the same way that Conservative is used in the fourth and fifth definitions for it. These topics are all things that sound good. But are they often followed through on? And how do these ideas mesh with the definition for conservative? Let's take a look.

The first claim that is often pushed forward by ANY candidate in the Conservative Party is that they want Limited Government. They want you to be able to live your life without too much control from your federal government. This sounds good, right? Fewer laws limiting where you can walk. Who you can talk to. How fast you can drive. What you have to purchase. This sounds like a good deal. But what do these "Limited Government" candidates often do when they get into office? They, often, push forward an agenda trying to limit the rights of people who don't agree with their general beliefs. Wait. Let us read that again. Their favorite things to do in office are to try to limit the rights and power of others? How is that limited government? How does telling people they can't get married, or adopt, or get a government job, or buy birth control help limit the power of government? Isn't this just what they claim to be against? A truly conservative candidate would be trying to stop the government from getting involved. That kind of interference GROWS the power of government. It doesn't limit it. Now, let me prove how these actions contradict the definition of conservative. The first definition is being disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, or restore traditional ones. Or to limit change. There are no laws currently (or in my lifetime, to my knowledge) limiting access to birth control or saying who can or cannot adopt a child. So many of these fail the first test. The second definition is to be cautiously moderate or purposefully low. While the MORALS of these fine folks may be low, that is not what is meant by the definition. By pushing forward these laws, purposefully, viciously, as soon as they get anything resembling a majority in any legislature, they are definitely not being cautious or setting the bar too low. So that's a fail for that definition. So, maybe it fits the third definition. To be traditional in style or manner, avoiding novelty or showiness. Well, they certainly make a show of their attempts to change the laws. Often pushing forward "voter initiatives" to deflect the blame. Wait. There it is! They are conservative in their attempts to get these laws to pass. Trying to pass the blame to ANYONE else if approval for the ideas starts to dip.

The second big thing that conservatives often play on is their desire to Lower Taxes in America. Anywhere they go, they want to cut your taxes! That sounds great, right? Well, let's see how that tends to work. First, we Lower the Taxes. This causes everyone to have more money, yes? This something we can all get behind. But, should we always be lowering taxes? Is it possible that there are BAD times to be lowering taxes? Are they being lowered in a way that actually helps out our country? I believe that the conservative thing (by the second definition, mostly) would be to take a look at our national or state budget and lower taxes only when that wouldn't CAUSE a deficit to occur. A conservative banker would NEVER give away more money than he could afford to write off. Why would our conservative legislators do so? If they can find waste in our system, or programs that are no longer needed, then cut them and find a better use for the money. Or, y'know, cut the revenue stream that was funding it. However, our "conservative" legislators have been starting new programs without funding them, while also cutting taxes in general. I wish *I* could stand up and say, "I'm never going to work again. Oh, and I'm buying a Porsche next week." I'd be laughed off the lot! And yet, these same people expect to get re-elected based off of their conservative ideals.

And, I mentioned it. So I guess I have to go into it. Their "Focus on America". I think this is a wonderful message. That we should be looking to our own problems and find ways to fix them. We need to get our own house in order before we can tackle the problems of the world. However, this is often followed by the cutting of funding for various things that we (and the rest of the world!) consider to be our problems. They step up and cut funding for education. They step up and cut back funding for public works projects. Or block the creation of new ones. They stand up and tell us that what we have for welfare is broken and only funding people who will never work again. And that our healthcare system is the best in the world. With the number of job losses over the last decade, and our economy's tepid attempt at a recovery, those last two problems are ones that have only grown worse. As many people have tried to get a few jobs, many families have been stuck with welfare as their only source of income for an extended period of time. The adults in the household are trying for work. Putting out dozens of applications every week. And then, finally, one of them lucks out and they manage to bring in enough money to get off of the social welfare program that saved them from losing their home. If only 50%, or heck. Twenty five percent, of the funds actually went towards keeping people from losing their homes while they are between jobs, then these programs have done their jobs. Of course, this rampant unemployment (still above 7% nationally, as of the last I heard) has caused many people to not be able to afford the healthcare they need to be able to work! If a simple cut turns into an infected mess, that person now has to go to the ER. And if they don't have the money in their account to pay for it? Well, US law requires these hospitals to stabilize the person anyway. And who pays for it? The hospital! How is this the "best healthcare system in the world"? If you don't have 100k in the bank, waiting for that cancer to finally hit someone in your family, you are screwed. Denying or exacerbating the problems of our nation does not help us fix them. Not everything is a profitable idea for a private corporation. And constantly stalling out or cutting apart our national government will not fix these problems.

Wow. That turned ranty. Well, to continue the last paragraph from where it derailed: If the party who claimed to be 'conservative' would actually look at our problems and try to find ways of fixing them (including actually raising the funds necessary to pay for it), I think this country would be in much better shape than it is now. Unfortunately, it comes down to our more "liberal" (yes, in quotes) party to push forward national infrastructure projects when they get a majority. Since when did investing in America become investing in the private companies who are only concerned with money? It comes down to responsible members of our government to look at everything that afflicts us and find ways to improve our country. And not just to improve those people's lives who donate the most to their bank accounts when election season rolls around.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thoughts on Gay Rights in the US

For my third installment, let's explore my own idea of what "Gay Rights" means and why this is such an issue in our country. Many other nations have either banned or certified rights for same-sex couples across their country. So why does ours seem to have such an issue with putting into law what we think is right?

The debate surrounding this topic includes several avenues. These, typically, are: Religious Values(tm), Tradition, Family Values(tm), and Civil Liberties.

First off, we'll talk about the Religious Values(tm) that are often cited as the reason we should ban gay marriage. Marriage, as an institution, has its roots in religious ceremonies. The union of two people together, for better or for worse, that gave them exclusive rights to the other. This was (in my limited research) enforced as a social contract, initially. It was something that you were expected to do before you raised a family. And, often, people as young as 12 or 13 would be married so they could *ahem* get to it. These are good reasons for marriage to continue to be socially accepted. A cohesive family will, generally, raise better adjusted children. However, as the years have progressed, governments have started to include tax and other legal benefits for couples who are married. These benefits can include next of kin, tax breaks, shared accounts and other things that provide a tangible benefit for being married beyond the benefits of having multiple people sharing a single home. As such, I believe that you can practice your own form of religious ceremony when you get married. But please, let there be a legal version for people who don't believe the same exact things you do.

Next, we'll get into the "Tradition of Marriage". This argument is basically an argument for "We've always done it this way, why change?" And, honestly, reasons have been presented for it to change. Reasons of fairness, of progress. Of civil liberty (to be discussed later). There are some things that we probably shouldn't change, because they have been tested and adjusted and shifted over the years into something that works really well. This is not one of those things. The tradition of marriage has been largely unchanged for centuries. The only things that have been adjusted are age limits on how young one can go through the ceremony and have it be legally binding. You no longer see children who have barely hit puberty being married off by their parents. That part of the "tradition" has been looked at and revised over the years. This is our time to look at and decide if other aspects of this tradition may need to be modified to fit into our modern world.

Family Values is something often cited as a reason to not change the legal definition of marriage. Or, worse, to "defend marriage". And what do they come out with? That same-sex couples won't give marriage the respect it deserves? Have they seen the divorce rate in this country? Same-sex marriage isn't legal in the majority of states. And we still have 50+ percent divorce rates among married individuals. It is becoming more and more difficult to find someone who hasn't already tied the knot when one goes out and talks to single men and women. How does this support an argument against same-sex marriage? They can't do any worse on that count. And, honestly, "til death do you part" is one of the bigger parts of the traditional vows, in my opinion. The other values often given voice are: "A family needs to be a man and a woman. Otherwise they'll grow up thinking being gay is okay." "If you expose children to a gay couple, you'll corrupt them." Now a days, so many children grow up in a single-parent home that they aren't getting the attention and support they need to truly develop. As someone who has several teachers as friends and family, I can say with confidence that the home situation is something that greatly affects how well children focus and dedicate themselves to difficult parts of life. If straight couples are constantly obsessing over their own views, or there are abusive members of a family, those children will be far worse off than if they lived near (or with!) a gay couple. Family Values will only become a meaningful argument after we have some evidence to support that it is harmful to nearby children. And, honestly, I fail to see how that can be given the horrible state of marriage in this country today.

The final part of this discussion that I wanted to talk about is civil liberties. The basic rights of those people who live in this country, and the benefits that often come with these rights. I mentioned earlier that legal marriage is something that confers special benefits to those couples who are registered with the country or state they live in. These benefits have nothing to do with religious orientation. They are purely economic and social benefits that are largely denied to same-sex couples simply due to their personal orientation. Allowing a lifelong partner to visit someone who is hospitalized due to an illness is not something that should be limited based on religion. The tax benefits of married couples is nothing to dismiss, either. These benefits can mean thousands of dollars every year being returned to them for staying together and combining their economic assets. Then we can get into the social impact of allowing same sex couples. These can include: More foster homes for children. Fewer people losing their jobs due to them being "outted" at their workplace (yes, this still happens). We can focus more on real issues that affect our country when we are in a political cycle. And, perhaps the most important, the idea that gay people are somehow "broken" may stop being taught to our children. This last one is a huge point for me. We often have debates that can shift the entire framework for what is right and wrong in our country. For a long time, being gay was something that was just quietly ignored. If it was found out you were, a minor excuse was made and you went away. Now, it is a huge issue that must be actively punished. And why? Because you are afraid people might say it is okay? Who are you to tell others whether or not their personal lives are right?

The discussion on gay rights seems to be one that involves people looking at the state of OTHER people's lives, and deciding it isn't right. On this issue, as with most, if what you choose to do with your life doesn't negatively impact mine, I think you should have the right to do what you want. Given the legal benefits of marriage in this country, they should have the right to be LEGALLY married. Whether or not a religious ceremony happens should be up to the individual churches they attend and/or worship at. The separation of church and state is a wonderful idea in this country. And letting a certain group's religious views dictate what others in this country can do in their personal lives is the worst form of church dictatorship we could have.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The trouble with the news

The 24 hour news cycle. Something we all take for granted in this day and age. No longer do we have to wait until 6pm to get our news. You can find a channel telling a version of the story right now! But is this actually leading to us being better informed? Is there enough news happening every day to warrant this kind of attention? And how much of the news is only news because another news show did a segment on it? Let's explore...

With several 24/7 news stations currently on cable television, we can tune in at any time to get news from a variety of perspectives. Many of these stations focus on politics in one form or another. MSNBC, FOX, Al Jazeera. While others focus on sports related news, i.e. the dozens of ESPN channels. While you may find local news on the non-sports channels anyway, their focus is on national news that relates to their stance in politics. Fox is one that I really cannot focus on. This is because the few times I *have* watched it, they have presented "facts" that I already knew were false through my own research on the topic. I cannot, and will not, willingly watch a station that regularly presents information that is easily dis-proven. MSNBC, being the obvious flip side to Fox, is one that I am often forced to listen to. I live with other people. It is their home. As such, if they want to watch something, I end up having to listen to it. However, I have found that most of their information can be verified, and all of their shows have willingly posted retractions if some of their information turns out to be wrong. Al Jazeera television is one that I do not often watch. It is largely neutral in our constant "liberal - Conservative" debates, pointing out the flaws in our system and the arguments that tend to hold the attention of the media. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying they are unbiased. But they are more "liberal" than anything in this country can get while being mainstream. However, they are a news outlet. And often run informative shows that either debate current topics, or go into the history of decisions made in various countries.

With all these channels to choose from, which is the best? Right now conservatives listen to Fox News. Just about anyone else listens to MSNBC. Or (shudder) NPR. Those damn liberal hippies are always trying to "inform" people. Blech. Any who, tangent traversed, back to the main topic. Can one have "two extreme choices" and still be informed on either end of the spectrum? Yes, I put that entire phrase in quotation marks. Mostly because I believe one of those two news outlets tries to inform, while the other tries to keep your attention in any way possible. I am not here to tell you which is which. And this is an issue (to me). You can't have intelligent discourse if one half of the issue always believes that the other half is being misled or lied to. How can you? Everything that comes out of their mouth is just another regurgitated lie, right? How do you rationally argue against willful ignorance? Both sides in our national debate seem to have this basic stance when it comes to the electorate. Our side is right. The other side is too stubborn to get their facts straight. And that is, in large part, due to the dichotomy of our news system.

I believe that the 24 hour news cycle has forced this disconnect between the two sides of our political spectrum. They lose viewers if they don't have a related show on at all hours. But there just isn't enough information to fill all that time. So what you get are a dozen different shows, all of them giving a slightly (or sometimes the exact same) take on the stories that are currently being reported on. It isn't uncommon for an entire "news" station to dedicate a week to a specific topic, only mentioning other news that may have occurred during the week. And having the same thing said, over and over again, and then referenced by the other shows gives it more weight than the facts currently available would normally lend it. After all, if six different pundits said it, it has to be true. Right?!

Which brings us to our final topic. How can we be well informed in this digital age? This is the greatest question that we can ask. All of our news outlets, television or not, seem to be tainted with political ideals. Even our written publications cannot be trusted, as they are owned by the same folks who own the television and radio news channels. And have you tried googling anything that gets mentioned on television? 400 hits of people all commenting on it. Objective journalism is hard to come by. The "echo chamber" on each side of our political spectrum is often blamed for people being misinformed. But I think it comes down to complacency. We trust the folks we get our news from. But I don't think many of these same people are worthy of that respect.