Monday, April 30, 2007

notice me - a poem

Well, blogspot doesn't understand concrete structure. A few dozen spaces automatically renders as one, no matter what I do. So I've been forced to put my newest stab at poetry on my MySpace blog here. Check it out! If you access it from here and want to comment on it, just comment here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Morality, As Told By...Me

If I were to collect all my thoughts on morality and the meaning of life into one piece of writing – which I may, someday, actually do (more for my own betterment than as a pulpit) – the introduction would go something like this.

I do not consider myself to be morally superior to others. Or at least I try not to, for that would be immoral.

I do, however, think it is acceptable – compulsory, even – for people to judge the world around them, and the people that make up that world. The word "judge", and all words related to it, have taken on such a negative connotation – most people will consciously and subconsciously react negatively to the word "judgmental". But judging does not have to start with huge, mind-altering preconceived notions, or lead to ideas of superiority or overbearing feelings of resentment toward others.

Judgment, in and of itself, without all of the things that have attached themselves to the process as civilization has advanced, is simply another term for reason. It is the process of making a decision based upon information one's senses acquire from the surroundings. If I say, "The road is closed ahead," and you decide to take another route – or even if you decide to continue the way you are going – you have just exercised your judgment, or reason. It is a necessary process by which we make it through each day, and by which society continues to advance, for better or for worse.

The same holds true for judgments of morality. Whether a person is reasoning through choices and trying to judge which one is morally right, or that person is making judgments regarding their own character or the character of another person, the process is absolutely necessary. It provides a better understanding of the world and an individual's immediate surroundings, and it gives that individual the proper tools with which to make informed, rational, and sovereign decisions.

Reason, or judgment, is half of what makes us human. The other half is emotion. Science simply cannot and will never account for human emotion to an extent that pleases me. There are some emotions – fear and lust, for example – that are instinctual and can be explained in a Darwinian model. But then there are emotions that don't fit in any scientific explanation. Therefore, I firmly believe that most of human emotion takes place on a somewhat higher plane of existence than the physical.

If we allow our emotions to take part in the reasoning process, we open ourselves to a deeper connection to this higher plane. This connection – this emotion – binds the entire human race in a way that none of the superficial subdivisions we have created can ever possibly divide us. It's what allows us, if we open ourselves to it, to feel sympathy for someone we've never met when we hear about their dire circumstances. It allows us to wallow in sorrow or bask in happiness that no scientific theory could ever possibly justify. It allows us to love one another in all the various ways and degrees love is possible. It gives us gut feelings about some areas of morality that are more profound and moving than even the most eloquent writer and thinker could reason through them. It gave the founding fathers of the United States the "self-evident" rights that they founded the nation to promote: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These things can be rationally justified, but even without doing so our emotions make them self-evident.

It is this combination of reason and emotion that both drives us to wonder what's right and wrong, and gives us the tools to figure that out. Whether our hearts and minds agree on a judgment or disagree, the fact that they are working together to form a sound judgment is what really matters. And since this judgment is key to survival as well as to understanding the world, it is therefore necessary, in order to live a full, rich life, for a person to reason and feel through the formulation of their own personal set of moral standards. These standards can then be applied to the process of judgment, as a sort of shortcut to the process. For example, one can reason through one single time why it's wrong to kill, and then apply that standard to all of one's judgments.

I admit that at this early stage of my life, my experience level is rather low. Nevertheless, I have spent a great deal of time in reflection about morality. Through this reflection I have formed the moral standards that guide my judgments and actions. I don’t consider them to be perfect, or somehow superior to all other ways of viewing morality. But they’re the best I’ve come up with yet.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

D Is for Disappointment

There was a time when I thought that a Democratic majority in Congress meant that real change was coming our way. During the election cycle, Democrats promised change in several areas, should they be elected. Social Security would be reformed; healthcare would be reformed; the Iraq war would be openly and seriously discussed and re-evaluated. The American people wanted this change, so when Election Day came, they voted Democrats into the majority seat in the Legislature for the first time in twelve years. America held its breath for the last two months that it would have to endure the Republican majority. And then, on January 4, 2007, Democrats took the reigns.

And then...nothing. Well, not nothing, but certainly not much. Some excitement over the first female Speaker of the House, a little campaign finance reform, and a bit of discussion involving the areas in which Democrats promised change. This discussion, though, has been rather disgraceful and disappointing. The Democratic majority has not pushed as strongly as they should for the things that got them elected.

Consider the Iraq debate. For the first few months of their newfound power, all the Democrats did was push for non-binding resolutions denouncing the war. These resolutions didn't really mean anything, and even if they did they were weakly worded. Overall, fewer words were used in these resolutions to denounce the war than to pledge support for the troops - a cause that, as I spoke of in an earlier blog, would best be served by bringing them home. Democrats allowed themselves to be pushed around, adding pointless sections to pointless resolutions, fearing that if their Iraq war denunciation did not include "but we support the troops," the American people would turn on them.

Even as they have attempted to take the debate more seriously, they've allowed themselves to be pushed around. Their new Iraq war budget plan includes timetables for American withdrawal - an excellent step in the right direction. But they've allowed the president and his Republican cronies to hold the moral high ground: Bush has promised to veto the bill, and every day he denounces Congress for not passing an acceptable budget. Congressional Democrats don't realize that if they shot back, saying that Bush was the one refusing to pass an acceptable budget, the American people would agree with them. So they just take the tongue lashing, and continue to push for a bill that promises an automatic veto, without applying pressure on Bush to support it.

Change in other areas has been even slower in coming. The disgrace of an Iraq war debate has occupied most of the Democrats' attention, so the other things they promised simply aren't on the docket. Where's the Social Security or healthcare reform? Where's the revocation of Bush's ignorant 2001 and 2003 tax cuts? Where are the Democrats we were promised?

It would appear that Congressional Democrats grew so used to their minority role from 1994 to 2006 that they don't realize just how powerful they can be. A stronger group of lawmakers in place of the disorderly mob we see today could really fulfill Democratic promises to the people. A stronger group of lawmakers could stand up to the president and his followers.

Congress, not the president, was set forth in the Constitution as the most powerful branch of the American government. But in recent decades, and especially with the Bush administration, presidential power has become paramount in Washington. If Democrats turned their attention to the Constitution, they could easily find support to call for a reversal of this trend. At the same time, Congressional power would be expanded. America would stop sliding farther and farther into becoming a dictatorship, and move instead closer to true Democracy. Congressional Democrats could lead this fight against expanding presidential power, and in doing so would probably gain even more support from the people.

But I no longer have very high hopes for the weaklings who hold this responsibility, as well as the other pressing demands of Congress. I am overall quite disappointed in them. The position they're in is perfect for pulling America in the right direction, but they simply don't seem capable of this.

My last hope for them lies in the attorney scandal. If they can stand up to the challenges of the Congressional vs. Presidential power struggle that this has caused and will continue to fuel, then perhaps they're not doomed. And perhaps, after all, their legacy will not be one of disappointment.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nappy Headed Hos: The Media Scandal of the Month

There has been an issue in the news over the past couple of days that has really bothered me.

Consider, for a moment, the following quote:

"There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society. That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision."

Now, what does it sound like this person is talking about? To me, it sounds like some media outlet has repeatedly and purposefully stepped outside the boundaries of decency and political correctness when it comes to race, and perhaps to gender. If this was the case, that quote would make complete sense. However, that is unfortunately not the case. It is actually something CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves said regarding the following comments aired on Don Imus's morning television show and radio simulcast, Imus in the Morning:

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers, man, they got tattoos, and, some hardcore hos. That's some nappy headed hos right there, I'mma tell you that right now."

No, seriously. I kid you not. That is the media scandal of the week, and, potentially, the month.

He was talking about the Rutgers women's basketball team, in a segment about their championship loss last week to Tennessee. Now, this team happens to be mostly African American women, so right away Imus's offhand remark that the team looked like "nappy headed hos" got tossed into the mosh pit of racial relations in America.

Over a week's time after being aired, these comments slowly stirred increasing amounts of anger from civil rights groups. Civil rights leaders and proponents from Al Sharpton, to Jesse Jackson, to Barack Obama, to Oprah Winfrey, began to call for Don Imus to be fired. They got their wish. First, MSNBC and CBS, the two companies which aired his program, gave him a one-week suspension. Now they've completely removed him from the air, indefinitely.

Now, there are a few incredibly ironic things about this whole situation.

Firstly, in growing publicly angry about these offhand remarks, these people have gained the comments nationwide noteriety. While a week ago, the only people who knew about these comments were the faithful viewers of Imus in the Morning, now everyone in the country knows about them. Everyone in the country has been exposed to this supposedly horrible racial slur, "nappy headed hos." They have taken something they violently disagree with, and they have given it exposure. They're worried about "the effect language like this has on our young people," but in combatting it they have exposed "our young people" to it.

Secondly, the comment itself. It's not even stereotyping. He didn't say "All African American women are nappy headed hos." In fact, he went on to say that the Tennessee team - which has just as high a percentage of African American women as the Rutgers team - "all look cute." In using the phrase "nappy headed hos," Imus was referring to the Rutgers team, and only to the Rutgers team. He wasn't sending a cruel, hateful message to African Americans or African American women. He didn't use any blatantly racist terminology. All he did was call one small group of people "nappy headed hos." While this may be somewhat tasteless and mildly offensive, it is not grounds for firing.

Thirdly, let's take a look at Don Imus himself. Sure, he has a reputation as a "shock jock" of sorts, and he's said some pretty risky things in the past. But there's another side to him. Since 1990, his Radiothons have raised over $40 million for children with diseases like cancer. And he's quite profitable, as well. He makes CBS $15 million a year, for example. Does he sound like a horrible guy? I think not. The news of his firing came down in the middle of his most recent Radiothon, at the beginning of which he quipped, "This may be our last Radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million." He really cares about the charitable causes he raises money for. Taking him off the air will not only cost the companies which chose to do so, but it could also potentially cost these foundations millions of dollars. Is the pride of one basketball team really worth that?

The greatest lesson we as a people can learn from this media scandal of the month is that we've grown too sensitive to political correctness. When the media can be brought to a screeching halt by one morning host calling a basketball team "nappy headed hos," there are some clear priority issues in America. Why should we force our broadcasters, who spend nearly insane amounts of time gathering and presenting the news to us, to constantly watch their mouths in fear of even a minorly offensive remark? Sure, there are things that should not be said on news programs, but I'd hardly say "nappy headed hos" qualifies there.

The final message I'll leave you with is this: That cracker Imus may have said something somewhat indecent, but I highly doubt those nappy heads have lost sleep over it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Support the Troops by Bringing Them Home

Earlier today, while visiting a military base, President Bush said of the War on Terror, "We've lost some fantastic young men and women. And we honor their service and their sacrifice by completing the mission, by helping a generation of Americans grow up in a peaceful world." This echoes the same message war supporters shout at anyone who believes we should withdraw our soldiers from Iraq. Supposedly, the highest honor we can give a soldier who has died in Iraq is to get the job done; and any talk of pulling American soldiers out of Iraq shows a lack of support for those soldiers. Democrats, nervous as they have been with their newfound power in Congress during the first few months of this year, blindly accepted this mantra. Every piece of legislation Democrats have proposed that sends a message of being against the surge in Iraq has spent more time making sure to note support of the troops than to denounce the war.

But just imagine, for a moment, that you were a soldier in Iraq. You've seen more death in the last month than most people see in a lifetime. Every day, you go about your duties, without any guarantee that you'll survive the day. You might have sub-par body armor and weapons, and the vehicles you ride in are easily turned into scrap metal by IEDs. This might be the sort of life you're willing to lead, if you're fighting for a good cause, but in Iraq what noble intentions may exist are weak, at best. Now ask yourself: Would you rather people show their support by keeping you in this impossible and pointless demonstration of American folly, or by realizing that's all it is and bringing you home to your loved ones?

Oh, but we're fighting for a good cause! We've brought the fight to them so we don't have to fight them here! We're making the world a safer place! We're fighting terrorism, you un-American swine!

A good cause? Are you kidding me? Since when is invading a sovereign nation under false pretenses of a connection to a terrorist attack, killing tens of thousands of civilians, creating a political vacuum in the middle of a volatile region, and throwing the whole place into a state of chaos a good cause? World War II? Good cause. Afghanistan? Good cause. Iraq? Not so much.

But you supported the war in the beginning! You flip-flopper!

Based upon the information the American people were fed by the Bush Administration early on, yes, I thought it was a noble cause. Four years of watching the death toll rise, and the Arab world stumble toward complete chaos, and, most importantly, learning that we were deceived as to the original intent of the war have taught me otherwise. I cannot support a war that was initiated under false pretenses, and only later was tied to the advancement of freedom and democracy around the world.

Well, what about the soldiers who have died? We must honor their sacrifice by finishing what they started!

There was no reason to put them in a position to die in the first place. Attempting to finish an unfinishable job in no way honors their deaths. Honor their deaths by making sure no more of their brothers have do die for the lost cause they died for.

Come to your senses, people! Calling for a troop withdrawal is in no way contrary to supporting the soldiers. We're not talking about a mad scramble out of the country, allowing the insurgents to fire at our soldiers' backs. We're talking about a steady decrease in troop levels until all of our soldiers are out of that ridiculous hell hole and back home where they belong. Support our soldiers. Bring them home.