Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sooner or Later, This Needs Fixing

I knew when I heard that President Obama had announced a new policy for immigration what I would see coming from his critics.  And of course, the bile and bigotry has flowed through my Facebook stream and Twitter as predicted.  If you're one of those posting that crap, you're certainly free to do so, but I urge you to reconsider your position.  For one thing, I think the Slacktivist hit the nail on the head in calling out the hypocrisy of Americans who revile "rule-breaking immigrants" while celebrating themselves as motivate go-getters - he has suggested a better name for both groups on his blog.

But more immediately, I think we need to recognize that the President is doing the right thing for the sub-group of children of immigrants who were moved here before they were able to make the decision whether to do so - either legally or not - for themselves.  My cousin is married to one of these "illegal kids." He found out he was here illegally when he was 18, and went to marry my cousin; he had been here for 15 years and did not know he wasn't supposed to be here - though he felt pretty stupid when he looked back and saw all of the obvious clues.

Unfortunately for him (and for my cousin) the whole myth of the "anchor baby" isn't true; and to answer those who ask "why don't you just go through proper channels like everyone else," the trouble is that there are no "proper channels" for someone like him. The "proper channel" would have been to abandon his new wife and infant for the 7 to 10 years that it would take for him to leave the States and re-apply for admission. He had nowhere to go in Mexico - his Spanish was okay, but he didn't know anyone there, and would have had no where to live, no job, no family, no way to support himself or his wife and kid, etc. 

So he was stuck between two lousy choices, and he made the one I would have made: stay with the wife and kids, support my family, stay out of trouble, and hope that since this is such a "hot issue" the U.S. Congress would come up with a plan. George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, sounded like they had the right idea, but just lacked the Constitutional power to do anything about it; and the Congress has lacked the cojones to act in the face of widespread racism.

By the way, this family I'm describing is largely Southern Baptist (myself being an exception) and tends to vote Republican. My cousin's first pregnancy was scandalous, but "the right thing to do" was for the boy to marry the girl and support her, and they stepped up to help as much as they could. One thing they could not do: they couldn't help change a "legal status" that the law didn't recognize.

Oh, but what about the law these people were and are breaking? I don't want you to think I am ignoring the law... but did you know it is only a misdemeanor? Speeding is more dangerous, and littering does more damage. Would you insist that everyone stop driving until we hold all of the speeders accountable for their crime?

Do you want to hold people accountable for the identity theft, tax evasion, and fraudulent claim of benefits? Great - let's do that! But you also need to make it so that a kid who turns 18 and finds out they aren't actually a citizen of the only home they've ever known can pay the fine for his misdemeanor, start the naturalization process - and still stay to support his American family. Take into account the fact that a minor isn't responsible for the identity theft his parents committed; and focus the harshest punishments on the drug runners, human smugglers, and money launderers (who currently tend to go free precisely because we fail to make a legal distinction between them and the trespassers).  My cousin's husband finally found a way to return to Mexico and enter the country legally after only 6 months; but he had to wait until the kids were old enough and the family was established enough to take that leap.

And please, please stop telling me that your position on this isn't racist. I see the things you're posting and saying - the stereotypes of the macho thugs, illiterate migrants, and other tropes you trot out to show how different these people are. It's like you forgot how your Irish and Eastern European ancestors were treated by the white protestants in their day.

You don't have to like Obama or support Democrats to get this problem fixed, but you should certainly reconsider your virulent anti-immigrant stance, and tell your representatives to come up with a better plan. Because we are better than the way we have been behaving for far too long.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Alone in a Crowd

"We have an informal association of radically individualistic rationalists, but we've reached a plateau. Now we need to find a way to come together with a unified vision for a better world, even if we have to sacrifice 'every man for himself'."    - Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
I keep saying that I don't like groups. I don't.  With a group comes baggage - labels, commitments, disappointments, betrayals (whether large or petty) and miscommunication. With a group comes scrutiny of your motives, judgment of your choices, obligation of your time and effort, and no real privacy.

And yet...
"Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships... The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all."     - from The Humanist Manifesto III
I've said for years (though not always out loud) that I don't need a supernatural being, and I don't need the irrational, institutionalized group with its fear and guilt being imposed from outside in order to control what they have no business controlling.

I managed to break free of the groups I was raised to believe in - ironically, by joining other groups - and I've found my way to where I am now.  I follow my gut, and I strive to make the best choices; I am good, except when I fail, and when I do, I fix it as best as I can.

I feel like I'm in a good place.  I like it here, and have no real need to drag anyone else along who doesn't want to be here.  I don't need a group to affirm or support who or what I am.  I simply am, and I have come through pain and fire to get here - on my own, without any mystical help.

And yet...

Have I really been on my own?  There has been no mystical help, but my personal journey has taken me through the lives of many others who have helped me along the way.  I've written about many of them, in some form or another.  Some have slept by my side; others I have never met in real life.  But we've shared time, and ideas, and while I can't guarantee I've always enriched their lives, they've certainly played a role in enriching mine.

But they're people. And in groups, they behave unpredictably, and cannot be completely trusted - so my instinct is to retreat, taking only what I need from them and giving back the minimum necessary.  I share my words on the internet, I measure my time carefully out for some, and try to devote myself to a few who really seem to appreciate me - and whom I appreciate in return.  And that brings me to the puzzle I'm facing right now.

Because, you see, while I have not tried to advertise, proselytize, witness, or otherwise claim any kind of mantle of wisdom, I still find that people approach me - behind the scenes, offline, sotto voce - because I'm visible with my lack of belief and I express the questions they are afraid to ask.  I haven't defined myself, I won't accept a label willingly, I argue constantly, and I'm confusing as all get out - but still they ask me for ideas and advice.  They are searching, and they've come to me.  But what do I have to tell them?

That's the question I've avoided for so long.  What do I have to offer to others; what is it that they sense in me that they think will help them?

I was not able to attend the Reason Rally in DC a few months ago.  Our calendar was triple-booked that weekend, but the following weekend saw us sitting at home with little to do, so while my lovely bride caught up on some scrap-booking, I watched the videos from the Rally. She listened across the room as Adam Savage (probably our favorite speech), PZ Myers, Hemant Mehta, Sean Faircloth, and Richard Dawkins spoke.  They varied from the upbeat and positive, to the thoughtful and scholarly, and to the fire-breathing and angry.  I was enjoying it immensely, and watching the crowd, and wishing I could have gone.

At some point, I realized she had stopped working, and was just listening intently.  I thought that I must be annoying her with the videos.  I was about to offer to put on some music or do something else - but then she said:
"I had no idea there were so many people out there who believe what I do."
It almost broke my heart to hear my dearest companion, and best friend across two decades say something like that.  She sounded alone.  And that's what my friends sound like when they tell me privately how they enjoy my posts on Facebook, my stories here on the blog, or my comments on Twitter.  They sound slightly shocked that they are not alone.
“Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.” ― Kurt VonnegutTimequake (Honorary president of the American Humanist Association)
And that's the answer.

It doesn't matter to me if you "agree with me" - whatever that meaningless phrase has come to represent - or if you believe what I believe about legal points, political machinations, science, or history.  I don't care if you like the same music, writers, movies, or art. But if you feel like you are alone in your doubt, if you feel lost in a cold universe, or if you are just tired of living inside of lies for the sake of the group around you - if you're lonely in a crowd... I can tell you that you're not the only one.  That's my gift; I can be here, visible, letting you see and hear that I am here.

For whatever it may be worth, I'm joining a couple of groups.  I will see what I can learn from them, and what I can bring to the table.  I don't intend to give more than I have; I certainly won't be impressing anyone with my organizational or time-management skills. I don't intend to bend or conform; I certainly won't wear a uniform or toe any lines. I won't drag anyone into it with me if they don't want to go.  I'll just do what I do best: think, read, share, and laugh.

But I can't hide in plain sight without making sure that those around me know this:

You are not alone.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And Why Are We In This Handbasket?

I saw that someone had posted the 76 Things Banned in Leviticus, and wanted to see how I scored.

(If you want to share yours in the comments, I'll happily approve them.)

  • 3.  Eating fat (3:17) - BACON: it's worth hell.
  • 4.  Eating blood (3:17) - did this one in England; not worth hell, unless I meet a Klingon
  • 6.  Failing to testify against any wrongdoing you’ve been told about (5:1) - that would be hearsay, and it is inadmissable
  • 7.  Touching an unclean animal (5:2) - how the hell do I wash my dog??
  • 8.  Carelessly making an oath (5:4) - I promise not to do that.  D'OH!
  • 11.  Bringing unauthorised fire before God (10:1) - have you seen our firepit?
  • 12.  Letting your hair become unkempt (10:6) - submitted by the Barber's Union of Judea (not to be confused with the Judean Barber's Union - they're splitters)
  • 13.  Tearing your clothes (10:6) - I am clumsy.
  • 14.  Drinking alcohol in holy places (10:9) - LOL, Catholics!
  • 15.  Eating an animal which doesn’t both chew cud and has a divided hoof (11:4-7) - Again -Bacon is worth Hell.  God *really* needs to set the bar a little lower.
  • 16.   Touching the carcass of any of the above (11:8) - Oink.
  • 17.   Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales (11:10-12) - Sushi was NOT worth Hell.
  • 20.  Eating any animal which walks on all four and has paws (11:27) - LOL, Del Taco
  • 36.  Having sex with a woman during her period (18:19) - No comment; I'm not incriminating anyone else.
  • 38.  Giving your children to be sacrificed to Molek (18:21) - ...but I took it back.  Does Molek do "take-backs"?
  • 41.  Making idols or “metal gods” (19:4) - My birthday present on my 5th birthday: C-3PO action figure.
  • 45.  Lying (19:11) - I always do this.  #seewhatIdidthere
  • 46.  Swearing falsely on God’s name (19:12)
  • 50.  Perverting justice, showing partiality to either the poor or the rich (19:15) - Uh-oh - between the Tea Party and OWS, we're ALL guilty of this one.
  • 51.  Spreading slander (19:16) - I forwarded a FoxNews link once.
  • 52.  Doing anything to endanger a neighbour’s life (19:16) - I drive a car.  Duh.
  • 53.  Seeking revenge or bearing a grudge (19:18) - You won't see it coming, either, you bastard.
  • 54.  Mixing fabrics in clothing (19:19) - With my fashion sense?  Yeah, I've probably done this.
  • 55.  Cross-breeding animals (19:19) - Does singing "Skullcrusher Mountain" count?  "I made this half-pony/half-monkey monster to please you..."
  • 56.  Planting different seeds in the same field (19:19) - It shouldn't count if you forget to water them and they die.
  • 59.  Practising divination or seeking omens (tut, tut astrology) (19:26) LOL, "Left Behind" series
  • 60.  Trimming your beard (19:27) - Well, Duh.
  • 61.  Cutting your hair at the sides (19:27)
  • 62.  Getting tattoos (19:28) - Oh, wait - I thought this said "tacos."  Kater is the tattooed one.
  • 64.  Turning to mediums or spiritualists (19:31) - Madame Brent read my tarot once.
  • 65.  Not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32) - The whole TIME?  
  • 66.  Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born”  (19:33-34) - I am mean to Koreans.
  • 67.  Using dishonest weights and scales (19:35-36) - Oh, like YOUR bathroom is a house of honesty!
  • 68.  Cursing your father or mother (punishable by death) (20:9) - I swear to God it was just an Impedimenta (oops... #46 again.)
  • 70.  Entering a place where there’s a dead body as a priest (21:11) - Wait, now - is the priest playing a dead body, like in the musical version of "Weekend at Bernies" starring Father Guido Sarducci? Or is the dead body dressed as a priest?  Or am I the dead priest?  Well, she looked 18...
  • 72.  Working on the Sabbath (23:3) - God don't pay Sunday shift differential.
  • 73.  Blasphemy (punishable by stoning to death) (24:14) - Gleefully - I suspect this post alone counts.  And if the stones start flying, that will only make me do it more loudly and often.
  • 74.  Inflicting an injury; killing someone else’s animal; killing a person must be punished in kind (24:17-22) - LOL, turning the other cheek!

So I scored... 35 (or did I violate #67 again?).  I'd try to up that, but there are a lot of non-existent and existing people I don't want to fuck on that list.  I'll have to be content with low-30's grade evil.  With a small "e"...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Are You What You Eat?

I don't often have the chance to take a position that puts me on the "side" of the conservatives, but here's one:

New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks

My opinion on this is that the government (in this case, the municipal government) oversteps its authority when it bans things. Furthermore, prohibition does not work; for evidence of this, I submit the 18th and 21st Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the dismal failure of the "War on Drugs." 

The lessons learned from those examples should apply to food and health policy, as well. I appreciate the intent, but as the Scientific American recently pointed out, the government is working against itself on these issues:
Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis are strongly correlated with excess poundage and run up medical bills of nearly $150 billion every year. The government has poured billions of dollars into dietary campaigns, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new MyPlate recommendation (half of daily food consumption should be fruits and vegetables) to programs aimed at providing more produce in schools and in military cafeterias.
Agricultural subsidies undercut those efforts by skewing the market in favor of unhealthful calories. Much of the food we have to choose from—and how much it costs—is determined by the 1,770-page, almost $300-billion Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (commonly known as the “farm bill”). This piece of legislation, up for renewal this year, covers everything from nutrition assistance programs to land conservation efforts.
The largest problem with trying to address the Farm Bill's many flaws is that it is so large and covers so much ground. It's easy enough to find it online and read it... but how many people are going to do that? So while people talk about elements within it all the time - food stamps, nutritional assistance, food safety, conservation, and subsidies - few realize that this bill even exists. And yet it is central to so many debates - all controversial, and all politically tied to planks in every platform.

For most people, finding out what's what is hard. Trying to slog through it or read other opinions on it usually results in throwing one's hands up in despair, and voting on other issues. People tend to prefer to let their party frame the problems while ignoring the root problems describing in that Scientific American editorial.  In an election year (which is coincidentally exactly when these Farm Bills seem to come up for renewal), it's all but impossible to have an intelligent conversation about the policies that need to be changed.

But actually changing policy is only half the problem anyway, when it comes to addressing obesity and health.  Many folks claim that if the government stayed out of things and let people make up their own minds about things, that people would make the better decisions for themselves.  I find this theory does not often play out that way, as people tend to be short-sighted, self-destructive, and prone to rationalization.  In addition to sound policies creating a healthier marketplace, people need to focus on their habits, too - which really is (or should be) beyond the scope of our government.

Science is always inexact, and the human body is one of the most complex of complex systems - even more complex that food policy legislation! While I like to think I'm smart and capable of sorting these things out, I personally get a lot of information from friends who write more intelligently on this (like Chef Shawn) or defer to folks who write about managing their own small farms (like Sharon Astyk of Casaubon's Book). It's a lot of work, but I suspect that anyone who digs in and asks questions will learn that most of the hotly debated issues that we keep battling would solve themselves if we paid more attention to this one.