Friday, March 21, 2014

A change is gonna come...

Recent court decisions overturning state bans on same-sex marriage are hastening the day when same-sex marriage will be legal across the country. I was reading a response to an article the other day in which the post said that the court should respect the votes of the majority of citizens in that state to pass a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. I shuttered at the thought of the awful things people could do if everything was left to the will of the legislative and electoral process. Some rights are not given in laws, but inalienable. While I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to say that the right to marry is inalienable, the right to equality is. Therefore, if a state wants to outlaw all legal unions - which would be absurd, but I'm making a point here - then that would be fine with me. But if the state allows two people to legally marry, then they have to allow another two people to legally marry (I won't get into polygymy and such, because the history there makes that issue much more complicated). There is absolutely no argument - legal or other - that anyone can make (except for religious, but that doesn't matter in our system of government) that would rationally determine that opposite sex people should be able to marry, but same-sex people should not. Further, marriage is a convenant and legal union between two people (and the state), and has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else. Therefore, the electoral process should have no determination on how two people decide they want to declare their partnership; whether that be choosing to remain unmarried, a civil union, or a religious ceremony.
The people who continue to disagree with same-sex marriage may have their reasons; and I don't want to say that all, or even most, of them are bad people - they're just wrong. They are not only fighting an uphill battle at this point, they're fighting a losing battle. And much like those who supported miscegenation laws before interracial marriage became legal, they will be proven to be on the wrong side of history. The day is coming, and it's coming quickly. But the odd thing is, there's nothing to fear. Legalizing same-sex marriage nationally will have absolutely no effect on opposite sex couples, but will have a major impact on same-sex couples and will finally give them the recognition that they deserve, rather than (ironically) making their unions and families unlawful.

Monday, January 27, 2014

There's nothing wrong with being content...

It's been a while. I've been busy and to be honest I haven't had that much to write. 2014 has been a wonderful year thus far. I spent New Years and the first couple of weeks in Haiti - another wonderful trip that increased my interest in the country - and have since been buckling down with school and work.
The thing is, these activities are nothing different from what I have been doing for over a year, but somehow these last few months have been better. I think it's attitude. I don't know when it was exactly that I had this sort of "AH-HAH" moment, but I think that I was lamenting my lack of interest in work and my grueling school work, when I finally realized that I alone determine my level of happiness.
I'm me. That's all I am. That's all I can control. I can be upset at the world around me, or the people around me, for not being exactly what I want them to be, but where does that get me? The only thing I can control is how I react to the people and the world around me. If I improve my outlook on things, and start trying to change the people around me and world around me to reflect more positivity and happiness, rather than allowing it to bring me down into negativity and misery, I think we are all (but especially myself) better for it.
So this is what I've been doing. When I've noticed people who constantly have a rain cloud over their head, I a) give them as little of my time as possible, and b) shower them with positivity during our limited interactions so that they don't bring me down, and it may brighten their day a little. We all know malcontents, and the thing that malcontents want to do more than anything is spread their misery. If everyone is unhappy, then it makes their unhappiness seem less glaring. But see, I don't want to operate like that. I don't want to live in that world. The majority of those people have little to be so unhappy about, and their gripes are manufactured, or at most small annoyances, that they allow to rule their attitude.
I'm done with it. Life is too short to get caught in the easy "...everything sucks..." conversation. My response these days, "Sorry, things are going pretty well here." You'll never shut a malcontented person up faster than by telling them that things are great and that they have nothing to be upset about. But wallowing has a comfortable feel in our culture and so it's often easy for these people to draw others into their misery, rather than have others pull them out (or just detach).
I don't know when it happened that mutual dissatisfaction became the easy connection, but we need a major shift away from this, because it's making people completely miss out on their lives, and ignore all of the great things around them.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Killing the spirit...

I finally saw 12 Years a Slave last weekend (it took a while to make it to Portland). THIS. MOVIE. IS. INTENSE. This movie shows a glimpse of the brutal reality and monotony that slavery was. Harder than watching some of the brutal scenes in the movie is knowing that reality was much more harsh and much more frequent. Even after watching this movie, and other movies about slaves that have come before, I can't understand the smallest inkling of what it would be link to be a slave; not only physically, but more so psychologically. To be treated as less than a person. To be treated as property. Slavery is one of the most dehumanizing institutions that has ever existed. The myth of the southern gentleman permeated the national conscious to the point that slave owners in the south were not strictly viewed (at the time) as cold-hearted, horrible people. Even the account of Solomon Northup speaking of his first "master", William Ford, speaks with relative fondness for the treatment he received from Ford, as opposed to Edwin Epps. Because slavery was so dehumanizing, one's perspective on the world becomes skewed, and the idea of horrible, bad, good, love, hate, all become ambiguous. Northup believed that William Ford cared for him, but Ford sold him as property to another man to repay a debt without a second thought.
12 Years A Slave was a very powerful movie, and I think one that a lot of people should see if for no other reason than to be reminded of the horrible past that our country has, and one that continues to have repercussions in contemporary society. However, as much as the story of a kidnapped free man in the north being sold into slavery shook me, I couldn't help but think of the lives of those that were born into and lived their whole lives within the slave system. You see, Solomon Northup knew freedom. He lived a normal life in Saratoga Springs, NY, and was well educated, well read, and very talented. His experience being sold into slavery is awful beyond comprehension. But what kept him going day in and day out during his time in slavery was hope. He kept hope alive that he would somehow get out of this hell that he'd been thrown into. That he would someday escape, or that someone would recognize that we was a free man, or that something miraculous would happen. And indeed it did. It was his hope that forced him to talk to Samuel Bass about his situation and ask him to deliver the fateful letter for him that ultimately lead to his freedom. Hope kept him going during his lowest moments in bondage. But hope is something reserved for those who believe they can have something different.
The slaves that were born on the plantation and lived their whole lives in the slave system knew no such hope. There may have been exceptions, but for those born into the system any semblance of hope had been literally beaten out of them over the course of their lives. People who knew nothing different could have little hope for something different. There is a poignant scene in the movie where Patsey asks Solomon to take her down to the river and drown her. He refuses to do so, because he as a former free man doesn't understand that she knows that there is no hope for her. There are no better days. There is no freedom. The only freedom for her is that provided by religion and the promise of life in heaven once her time on earth is through. To her that freedom is the only hope, so death is not the worst thing one can imagine, because life offers all of the horrors one needs, with no prospect for an end. As I said before, slavery is one of the most dehumanizing institutions that has ever existed; and this is not simply because slaves were not treated as humans by the slave owners, but more so because the slave owners destroyed their lives by removing the one thing that keeps people moving forward - hope.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Do you really...?

Support the troops.

That, for me, is both a statement and a question. The question is not whether to support the troops, but rather in what way should we support the troops. Also, in what way do the troops support us?
It has become rote in this country to qualify any critical statement about the military or military spending with a statement indicating that you support the troops - I do it myself. I guess it's because people don't want to be seen as patriotic or insensitive of young men and women sacrificing their lives for their country. But are they sacrificing needlessly? What exactly are our troops killing and being killed for? Is it really a security issue? Is the colossal expenditure of our national budget that goes to the DOD (not to mention other security-related issues) really worth it? Aren't the soldiers supposed to be supporting the ideals of our country like Democracy, freedom, equality, and rights? But if you think about it, our country doesn't uphold these things.
We have a Congress that is completely inept at working together and a general populace that does give one iota about supporting their fellow countrymen. We as a country are still plagued by racism, sexism, sexual orientationism, agism, regionalism, and probably many other -isms. We love nothing more than slicing our country up by as many demographic factors we can think of, and then doling out opportunity, power, and money to those that are deemed most worthy.
The irony of the military support is a lot of young members of the military come from places and circumstances that the people who support them once they're troops couldn't care less about. They're from poor, rural areas where the lack of opportunity forces them to find something to open up doors for them, and the military is often this option. Also, the people with those stickers on their cars tend to be the very people who support the troops only, but not where those troops came from or the the economic circumstances that drew them to the military in the first place. This is why we see so many young men and women who have completed their military service left in the lurch by these "troop supporters", because now that they're back to being civilians they have nothing to offer - whether it be security or a political statement. Veterans are ignored by these "support the troops" folks. This is very similar to the anti-choice protesters who care so much about the life of an unborn fetus, but once that baby comes into the world they care nothing about refusing assistance for food, medical care, or education. It's all hypocritical, political bull$hit.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's not what you think it is...

This government shutdown is the least surprising thing to happen since Barack Obama took office. It's been inevitable for some time, and to be honest, I'm surprised that it didn't come sooner during one of fights over the debt ceiling. The unfortunate reality is that this is exactly what Republicans - or at least tea party Republicans - have wanted for a long time. Republicans believe that a) the government is too large and b) that the government spends too much money.
Therefore, "starving the beast", as it were, is the only way to create what they would consider substantive policy to limit the size, scope, and spending of the U.S. government. To use an Obama analogy, they want to use a chainsaw to cut the U.S. budget, when a scalpel is necessary.
Sure, the U.S. government spends too much money. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc. all agree with that. But just what the government SHOULD be spending the money on and what it shouldn't is not at all agreed. Conservatives typically believe that we should be cutting any and all social programs; including education, health care, medicare, medicaid, unemployment, etc. Basically those things that support the majority of older and low-income Americans - and don't create profit. While Democrats typically want to cut things like military spending, tax subsidies to wealthy individuals and companies, and raise corporate taxes. These are two different perspectives on the role of government, and to be fair are worthy of a legitimate, healthy debate.
However, the arena for hashing out this debate is not a continuing resolution to pay the government's bills. Especially when Republicans are using it as an excuse to defund the signature legislation of the Obama administration, before it's even been implemented. Republicans don't even want to give it an opportunity to work, even though the American public essentially supported the ACA by re-electing the man whose name has become synonymous with the law.
So by shutting down the government, Republicans have essentially won this round. We can only hope that the American people see what they are trying to do and recognize that Republicans are not attempting to defund Obamacare (the ACA), but instead trying to starve government to the point of ineffectiveness, so that only those essential functions will be taken care of (which for them is military only). There's a good chance Republicans will take the PR hit for this government shutdown, but Americans are so apathetic, misinformed, and myopic, that unfortunately I don't think this government shutdown will have an major electoral impact.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Managing expectations...

The situation in Syria is awful. People are dying. People have died. A dictator is doing whatever he has to do to maintain power. It's a nightmare. But it's also a moral conundrum. Our country is fatigued by ten years of war in Iraq that was begun with an unclear objective (or possibly even a lie) and a continuing conflict in Afghanistan that is mired by continuing problem of what will happen when we leave.
Certainly there is an argument to be made that getting involved in Syria is a moral imperative to stop the killing of the opposition by Bashar al-Assad. But is the opposition "right"? Is there a "right"? Do we wan to support either side in this conflict? What are the long term benefits and consequences to getting involved? Also, why is the use of chemical weapons the "red line", but we've stood by while the government troops have killed around 100,000 opposition fighters. That's not a red line?
So besides the unignorable fact that we've stood by and let 100,000 people die during this conflict, there is also the larger problem of the goals and expectations of getting involved in Syria. If we were to go in with limited airstrikes - which would be mostly a symbolic gesture - what would the long-term impact be on the actions of the Assad regime? Little to nothing. Airstrikes may make it known to Assad that we're willing to "get involved", but would be more likely to show that we're interested in making gestures but actually NOT getting involved. Basically an  airstrike would indicate exactly the opposite of what we would hope to indicate. But on the other side of the coin is a full-scale, "boots-on-the-ground" military involvement. This is the furthest thing anyone in the United States wants, and that includes citizens and those within government. It's a sticky situation that not even foreign policy hawks want to become involved in.
So the question then becomes what to do? I guess my answer is I don't know. But I don't support military engagement. I would support an multilateral effort involving countries in the region and international players making a decision about what the best course of action would be. But a unilateral, or even bilateral (if France stays interested), incursion would be the furthest thing from beneficial that we as a country could do. So while the moral implications way heavily on my heart, I don't see how launching airstrikes (that have the unfortunately high potential of adding to the civilian death toll) or sending soldiers in can be anything but harmful to both U.S. interests and civilians in Syria. My prescription is that we either sit this one out and keep a watchful eye on situation, or try to bring together an international coalition (that includes countries in the Middle East) that comes together to figure out whether military intervention would be a net positive or negative.